Kate Nash review, 9 Sad Symphonies: Fierce, funny, friendly, and festival-ready

‘Foundations’ singer releases her fifth album on 21 June 2024  (Alice Baxley)
‘Foundations’ singer releases her fifth album on 21 June 2024 (Alice Baxley)

The Horrible Histories team nailed it when they cast Kate Nash as Boudica in their 2019 movie Rotten Romans. Like the ancient Iceni queen, Nash (whose debut album, Made of Bricks topped the chart in 2007) was dangerously underrated by misogynists in both the industry and the media – but refused to dismount from her pop chariot. She flipped her red hair at the haters and kept chucking her snarkily barbed, defiantly English-accented lyrics out into the world. Since then, she’s survived not only being dropped by her original record label but also the cancellation of Glow – her much-loved Netflix series in which she starred as a female wrestler learning “to make myself big and enjoy taking up space”.

Her fifth album, 9 Sad Symphonies, was written in the wake of that disappointment and during the pandemic. But its music mood is inspired by Hollywood romance. Imagine Boudica painted by a pre-Raphelite and you’ll get a sense of this record’s softly swirling string tendrils and dreamily plucked harps. That said, there are also some shield-banging electro-beats to ensure the relatable rawness of everyday life comes battering through.

“Everything hurts, yeah, it hurts so much/ I eat my dinner in the toilets at lunch,” runs the yearning chorus of album opener “Millions of Heartbeats”. It’s a loneliness many of us have experienced, taking me back to the cubicle cowering of my own first office job. Nash cleverly sets this common tableau in the context of the bigger picture: questioning the media’s support of “far-right scum” and whether she’ll still remember her current loved ones when she dies. This micro-macro tale is reflected in a tune, which sets a pretty, plinky piano line within a swooping big electro-classical setting in the style of Clean Bandit.

Lead single “Wasteman” finds Nash in a punchier spirit as she takes a cool aim at a man trying to knock her confidence. You can almost hear her eye-roll as she gives it to him straight: “You’re s***ty wifi/ I’m going to have to disconnect.” The strings soar into the dance rhythm as Nash describes the delight of enjoying her reflection in the mirror again, having shaken off this drag of a lover. The greatest hook on the record arrives with a sorrowful swoop of violins on “Abandoned” – a track that recalls the strangely suspended melancholy of early Sarah McLaughlin as Nash reaches for her higher, more vaporous registers.

But as the album progresses, Nash graduates from heartbreak to love. Over the delicate pizzicato of “Space Odyssey 2001”, she is certain of her partner’s commitment to her: “Took you to an underground wrestling club/ Freaky and buff and covered in blood… It’s plain to see you’re in love with me.” There’s quirkiness in the clip-clop-coconut percussion of “Horsie”  and a school choir vibe to the sneering of “My Bile”. Sometimes the melodies feel a little thin and fleeting. But they’re fun.

Although Nash was widely mocked for her references to the mundanity of quotidian routine on her debut album (notably that lyric about dental flossing), it’s good to see she’s stuck to her guns, because aren’t we all inclined to reflect on the bigger issues in life while doing the chores?

This album finds her tidying her bedroom (“Horsie”); stuck in hospital (on the strummed “Ray”); and “in the shower/ washing my hair” (on the jauntily picked closing ditty “Vampyre”). On the latter, Nash sounds like she’s sitting beside you on a London bus. “Sometimes you gotta jump and run/ And let the demons from your past explode into the sun,” she sings on a chorus that should see festival crowds sway-singing along this summer. Through it all, Nash remains our Boudica-next-door. Fierce, funny, and friendly.