One of the forgotten attributes of the vinyl era of pop music is the limitations the two-side album format imposed regarding its structure. Having to flip over from side one to two brought with it a curious dynamic of stopping listening, turning the record over and putting the needle back on again. LPs were often therefore like games of football – records of two halves. This break in play often led to very creative tracklistings, probably the most famous example of which is Bringing It All Back Home, Bob Dylan’s side one = electric, side two = acoustic revolutionary masterpiece.
Nadine Shah is very much a woman of the digital age, but that hasn’t stopped her from structuring her debut ‘LP’ Love Your Dum and Mad in very much the same way Dylan did, to devastating effect. ‘Side One’ is a barrage from the get go of powerful, driving rock and roll, magnificently produced by Ben Hillier, echoing his previous work with the Horrors in particular with the thunderous intensity of the guitars and drums. PJ Harvey circa Rid of Me is the most obvious comparison, with Shah’s surreal lyrical turns – at times verging on the self-emasculating (“I used to be a virtuous man…”) backed up by the ballsy, persistent thuds of metallic, industrial sounding noises and chugging guitars.
This sonic world is more or less similar until we reach the middle of the album when a somewhat seismic shift occurs. The pounding guitars suddenly disappear, only to be replaced by a brooding piano and a clarinet that becomes mysteriously more and more prominent as the record progresses. The effect is not quite on a par with Dylan going electric, but it is pretty surprising nonetheless. The shift in the record’s axis is signaled around tracks five and six (perhaps the emotional core of the whole effort) that leads also to a change in musical attitude – from assuredness to doubt and uncertainty. Hillier’s production values echo this shift, with the immediacy of the mix replaced by a cavernous reverb that drowns everything in a sea of loneliness and regret.
The most revelatory part of this change, as we imagine flipping the record over, is how it all of a sudden unleashes Shah’s deceptively powerful voice. ‘Side One’ was incredibly exciting, and it gave clues as to the depth of Shah’s vocal – mixing some clear Geordie intonations on ‘To Be A Young Man’ and Sufi inflections inherited from her Pakistani father on ‘The Devil’ – but it works all the better as a mirror to the melancholic second half as Shah’s front drops to reveal a world weary, troubled soul. The simplicity of lines such as “Darling I will hold your cigarette/Whilst you tie your shoes” on ‘All I Want’ seem to carry an emotional resonance way beyond the situation being described when backed by a voice that mercifully is spared the power-ballad treatment Shah was reportedly asked to lean towards by several potential collaborators. We can only thank her for her good taste and perseverance in finding the right sound, as what we are left with instead is a record full of imagination, originality and pure soul.