The expression “the personal is the political” has never seemed more apt than on Holiday Destination, the third album from Nadine Shah. Where Shah’s previous albums, Love Your Dum and Mad and Fast Food dealt with broken-down relationships, suicide and anxiety, this latest offering sees Shah turning her gaze outwards. From its album cover, showing a boy smiling out from a hollowed-out building in Gaza, to the rumbling jagged sound of its instrumentation and Shah’s cri-de-coeur response to the state of politics and society in 2017, this is an album that pulls no punches and offers no easy answers.
Political albums can be dangerous territory to wade into, where musicality gets sacrificed for the sake of the message. This is quickly dispelled by the dark-funk of Holiday Destination‘s opener ‘Place Like This’, coming off all Grace Jones before culminating with a chant taken straight from a Refugees Welcome protest.
Title track ‘Holiday Destination’ is a heavy bass gloom, topped off with a whirling organ as Shah lyrically dismisses the combo of austerity and xenophobia that dominates Western politics. ‘Out The Way’ and ‘Yes Men’ bring in a rumbling and occasionally flinty guitar sound, which moves to a full post-punk racket on the chorus of ‘Evil’.
All of it though, is mere backing for Shah’s voice – a plaintive, rich and rounded instrument in itself, combining the musicality of her natural accent and the sound of blues/jazz forebears, like Nina Simone and Billy Holliday. Whilst some of the album’s later tracks deal, lyrically, with self-reflection, the raw instrumentation, stabbing away, keeps the pressure up, making the whole a captivating and unsettling experience.
Over the course of her career, Shah has shown herself to be in a field of one. Able to produce albums whose eerie sounds back her naturally expressive voice and straight-to-the-point lyrics, it’s arguable that she may be the most important singer-songwriter in the UK. Now, with an album that, lyrically, cuts to the heart of contemporary concerns, she is surely poised to get the recognition she deserves.
Holiday Destination is out now.