Kate Nash was not my first choice in the “Most likely to release an Alternative Nation Record” Category in 2013 (the correct answer would be Wavves), but it’s hard to describe Girl Talk as anything else. Gone are the outside collaborators, the major label backing, the piano pop hooks, and blue eyed soul, and in their place is an underproduced punk rock band where Nash plays bass that calls Pixies and Bikini Kill to mind less than Regina Spektor. In hindsight, the signs pointing to the alternative rock/riot grrl sound of Girl Talk are all there: Nash’s lyrics have always had a feminist bend, she’s not afraid of letting her songs have freakouts, and jarring rock isn’t entirely new for her.
That’s not to say that opener “Part Heart” isn’t disarming. The song’s underpolished drums and bass stagger the song forward as guitars come in to cause a racket more than anything else. Meanwhile, Nash numbly riffs through a list of things she’s done to forget you from doing her nails to drinking, but “I still feel the same/It doesn’t matter”. “Part Heart” has a strong undercurrent of willful abrasiveness to it ala “Tired of Sex” or “Serve the Servants”; it’s meant to scare away casual fans looking for a hit, and daring everyone to stay.
Despite the easy comparisons to Alternative Nation-era albums (Nash wails like a young Courtney Love on “Sister”, and “All Talk”‘s outro straight up ganks the riff from “Violet”), Girl Talk never plays like an “I Love the 90s” comp. It feels like jagged, confrontational, abrasive record that Nash would have made even if there weren’t artists to name check. Among other things, this is a back to basics record; common drum beats, root note basslines, and simple but effective guitar lines. But at the same time, Nash tries to get as much mileage from the set up as possible, and there are plenty of pop moments on Girl Talk. Lead single “3 AM” is a mindlessly catchy headbopper, and even though it feels like two songs pressed together between the verses and chorus, “OHMYGOD” has some of the most tuneful moments on the album.
But Nash doesn’t always play so nice. “Fri-End?”, “Sister”, “All Talk”, “Conventional Girl”, and “Cherry Pickin'” make the bulk of Girl Talk‘s “powerchords and screaming” material. Like the rest of the album, the quality is a little scattered: “Cherry Pickin'” and “Conventional Girl” fall short, whereas “All Talk” and “Sister” excel, with “All Talk” delivering the most quoted lyric on the album of “You have a problem with me/Because I’m a girl/I’m a feminist/And if that offends you/then fuck you!”. Feminism gets another explicit mention in “Rap for Rejection”, which is probably the most polarizing cut here. It’s a brilliant “best-of” of 21st century twenty-something sexism encounters, but the piss-take rap and music behind it are almost cringe-worthy. Feminism and empowerment have always played into Nash’s lyrics, but her themes and writing as much clearer on Girl Talk. You could dismiss it as heavy-handed, but it all works in context: Nash’s brand of feminism hits for the every woman, and her frustration at keeping life together in the face of blatant sexism is bound to piss anyone off.
If anything, the music lets Nash down more than the lyrics do. Every Kate Nash album has had its share of filler, and even the non-glamour change up to alterna-punk doesn’t cover it. With maybe 35 to 45 minutes of ideas stretched to 53, Girl Talk feels redundant; surely with “Oh”, “Labyrinth” could have been dropped, and the two closing acoustic/orchestrated tracks feel tacked onto the end of this noisy record. Nash put all of herself into this batch of songs, and she’s clearly got a lot to say, but another round of editing would have helped her say it sharper.
The more I think about it, Girl Talk would make for a great “Feedback” record. It’s likely going to be a singular entry in Nash’s career, but still shows a great deal of development and style. From the fan funding to the darker, indie/punk sound, this album was made to turn people away, and it might, albeit not for the reason that Nash intended. It’s a blatantly anticommercial record at a time when anticommercialism almost sounds quaint. In that way, her new sound is more underwhelming than overwhelming, three stars out of five.
tl;dr: Kate Nash’s new album bring punk rock fire, but burns out before she does, 3/5.