Filthy Underneath by Nadine Shah album review by Ethan Rebalkin for Northern Transmissions


Filthy Underneath

Nadine Shah

On Nadine Shah’s 5th studio album, Filthy Underneath, Shah addresses grief, self-doubt, renewal, and the beauty of second chances through meditative, irresistible and introspective pop.

The three years since Shah’s last release has been anything but uneventful. With a touring plan demolished due to a global pandemic, 2020 saw Shah receding to her home town of South Tyneside, England to tend to her terminally-ill mother. Caught in an undertow of unprecedented turbulence, Shah seeked comfort in Iranian pop, Indian disco and “shitloads of glam rock.” Although songwriting was the last thing on her mind, the grim realities of her situation were what laid the groundwork for Filthy Underneath.

Shah and longtime producer/collaborator Ben Hillier waste no time in acquainting us with the sound palette that can be found parading the record. Entrancing percussion, sputtering synths, and horn embellishments sit comfortably under Shah’s haunting melodies on the opening track “Even Light.” There’s a real sense of urgency to the song, one that successfully pulls you into the hands of the second track, and Filthy Underneath’s lead single, “Topless Mother.” Right from the top, you’re met with a double-tracked vocal delivery that rises above an irresistible groove of percussion, until finally the anthemic chorus opens the song right up. “Sinatra, Viagra, Iguana,” Shah sings over the squelching of a fuzzed out guitar lead that sounds right out of a Lonerism-era Tame Impala song. Describing a comically tense exchange she experienced with a counselor, the free-associative list of three-syllable words found in the chorus paint a picture of celebratory absurdity that can only leave one guessing as to what the meaning is.

The album continues with the dialogue driven tune of “Food For Fuel,” a battle for supremacy between a pre- and post- rehab self. Sufi Qawwali music icons Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida Parveen work as musical inspirations for Shah, and a reference point that is seen on full display in “Food For Fuel” and follow up tune “You Drive, I Shoot,” especially in its vocal melodies. Both songs find Shah’s angelic vocals sitting on a cloud of enticing basslines, and aggressive, ever-changing synth-leads. “You Drive, I Shoot” recounts a daughter turned carer, driving her ailing mother through a seemingly endless schedule of hospital appointments. A scene that becomes even more intense when you recall the very real circumstances that Shah found herself in with her mother.

“Keeping Score” might be the most earnest and honestly heartbreaking song yet. “The world is on fire, you are a lifeline,” Shah sings. A line that looks outward at the calamity drenched world in which we exist, while attempting to find solace in front of oneself. There’s an unsettling nature about the melodies, lyrics and instrumentation that can’t be ignored. An acute feeling that sits at the back of your subconscious for the entirety of the song, and doesn’t relent till the last second.

That unsettling feeling doesn’t subside past “Keeping Score,” in fact it only progresses further into “Sad Lads Anonymous,” and “Greatest Dancer.” “Sad Lads Anonymous” serves as a shadowy monologue and confessionary tale. One in which Shah ponders her own inability to find comfort in any environment. “Happy for now, watching shiny dancers,” Shah warns on “Greatest Dancer.” An accessible, pop-forward song that, like many songs on Filthy Underneath, has an uneasy undertone to it.

“Twenty of the worst things I can think,” Shah murmurs in “Twenty Things.” A song that leads you along with a shuffling snare rhythm, and synth embellishments reminiscent of Radiohead’s Kid A. An objectively pensive song that feels approachable when compared to album closer, “French Exit.” A crushing ballad that Shah contemplated not including on the album, in fear of putting out anything that remotely romanticises suicide. Borrowing the name from the practice of leaving a social scenario without announcing your departure, “French Exit” was written about the night that Shah attempted to take their own life in 2022. Shah does an elegant job of navigating such a sensitive topic, and we’re left with an album closer that is as intimate and daunting as it is expansive and reassuring.

Nadine Shah’s 2024 album Filthy Underneath is an ode to 3 years that almost took everything from her. Successfully dissecting the minutiae and mending it above a wash of dreamy avant-pop.

Order Filthy Underneath HERE


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