Nadine Shah – Fast Food (3 stars)

Northumbrian singer's second album is elegantly packaged but lacks bite

Nadine Shah – Fast Food

Apollo/R&S Records

An expressive alto voice with a torch song tone is a powerful musical weapon, deployed with precision over the years by femmes fatales from Marianne Faithfull to PJ Harvey, Anita Lane to Anna Calvi, all of whom can conjure up a cloak and dagger intensity in their performances.

Nadine Shah has one of those naturally noirish voices and knows how to use it. This Northumbrian singer, whose Pakistani-Norwegian parentage certainly doesn’t hurt her striking image, cultivated a love of jazz through her teenage years but her own music tends to the gothic: Nick Cave is her favourite singer, she has toured with Depeche Mode and Bat For Lashes and the sleeve of her second album looks like a poster for an Italian giallo horror.

Where Shah laboured over her debut album Love Your Dum and Mad, Fast Food was written with regular collaborator Ben Hillier in a two-month splurge. Yet far from unleashing the hounds, it is a controlled, self-contained and balefully brooding collection, strong on carefully wrought atmosphere but slight on songs, which are often repetitive in structure and undynamic in execution.

Keening gothic guitars run insistently through ‘Fool’, while Shah intones mysteriously ‘you, my sweet, are a fool’ like a disapproving mistress. You can hear the throaty catch in her voice on the more minimal ‘Matador’ and she creates a harmonising siren chorus of Shahs on ‘Nothing Else To Do’, all singing the title repeatedly over a plangent picked guitar, like an Asian love mantra.

The single ‘Stealing Cars’ is the most serviceable song of the bunch – Shah and Hillier dress it up in gothic robes but it’s essentially a commercial pop song, a sheep in wolf’s clothing which holds your gaze right to the end rather than go for the jugular. Like the rest of the album, it is elegantly packaged but lacks bite.

Nadine Shah - Stealing Cars

Nadine Shah

Dramatic singer/pianist influenced by Frida Kahlo, Philip Larkin and Arthur Russell.

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