Nadine Shah

Nadine Shah is lingering backstage after a “blinding” show at the dawn of the track ‘Sad Lads Anonymous’ from her tour de force fifth album ‘Filthy Underneath’. Her gloriously expressive Wearside accent runs free in a spoken word monologue: “The band left hours ago, according to the work experience kid that I’m currently telling all my deepest darkest secrets to in a toilet cubicle”.

If that kid was privy to the first draft, then we are all now treated to the fully-realised final product. Those secrets, sadly, carry a profound weight: since Shah’s last album, 2020’s ‘Kitchen Sink’, she lost her mother at the height of lockdown, her marriage came to an end and she attempted to take her own life. Through a period of recovery has emerged a career-best statement of Shah’s songwriting prowess, where inner struggles are rendered with maturity and relatability, supercharged by a fearless, expansive sonic palette.

Twitches and chirrups of static fuzz adorn ‘Even Light’, a track ridden by a sense of foreboding, gothic paranoia, but at a rollicking, devil-may-care pace. ‘Food For Fuel’ shows off the qawwali devotional influence of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, while ‘You Drive, I Shoot’ and ‘Keeping Score’ find Shah and longtime producer Ben Hillier [Blur, Depeche Mode] creating soundscapes that can send a shiver through the listener without ever alienating them. If the arrangements occasionally seem sparse and uncertain, then with Shah’s deeply felt vocals, we are always firmly rooted in a human place, where a warm embrace is never far away.

‘Greatest Dancer’ details nights watching Strictly with her ailing mother while illicitly slipping down some of her medicated morphine. What results is a glorious moment of escapism, a hallucinogenic fantasia with galloping drums and a glitterball swirl of dreamy synths.

But on ‘Topless Mother’, the mood changes as she sings, “When you were born you broke the mould / Another lie to you your mother told”. A glimpse into Shah’s recovery period, the song collapses into a non-sequitur chorus of random word exclamations (“Samosa!”, “Iguana!”), and we ponder whether Shah is shirking at us trying to listen in too closely, or surrendering to the jumble of her own internal monologue.

‘French Exit’ is a disarmingly frank contemplation of the day of her attempted suicide. “Blue polka dot and matching trousers / Reapplied lipstick, a clown who counts the downers / Just a French exit, sliding off the dancefloor / But how close is it, the now until the no more,” she sings, the poignant, matter of fact specificity averting any danger of glamourisation. Shah is writing about the darkest places a person can reach in a devastatingly human manner that demonstrates a rare level of repose and reflection.

She is laying her own true self on the line on ‘Filthy Underneath’, for her benefit, perhaps, but definitely for ours, so that we may turn the lens on ourselves and ask any questions that may need asking. As she concludes on ‘Food For Fuel’, “I am as I was before / Why am I as I was before?


  • Release date: February 23, 2024
  • Record label: EMI North

The post Nadine Shah – ‘Filthy Underneath’ review: unflinchingly brave self-reflections appeared first on NME.


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