Her Life as a Young Man - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Her Life as a Young Man

Her Life as a Young Man

By Eugene S. Robinson

Nadine Shah


Because Nadine Shah earns critics’ comparisons to the eerie brilliance of PJ Harvey and Nick Cave.

By Eugene S. Robinson

The last bit of cool out of Whitburn, England, was around 1871, when Lewis Carroll, he of Alice and her Wonderland, wrote the “The Walrus and the Carpenter” while vacationing there. Then came a long drought. Until Nadine Shah.

Part Pakistani (her dad), part Norwegian (her mum), all British, the 27-year-old Shah’s debut album, Love Your Dum and Mad, was  produced by Ben Hillier, fresh off his work with Depeche Mode. The record is everything critics promise when they start waving around Nick Cave, Marianne Faithfull and PJ Harvey as comparison points.

Understated but intense, Shah’s “To Be a Young Man” is both incisive and insightful.

Thrillingly gloomy and bracing, Shah’s voice and piano work avoids the overwrought emotionalism that makes similar artists, like Tori Amos and Fiona Apple, sound like crazy girls with keyboards. Understated but intense, Shah’s “To Be a Young Man” is both incisive and insightful.

As she sings in the character of the young man, it sounds like she’s lived every word of it. It’s strange to learn that this big, dark voice comes from a woman whose early teen life goal was to be Mariah Carey. The sensibility of her first EP, Aching Bones , and this year’s full-length album couldn’t be further from the high-gloss pop of her one-time idol.  

Now we’re stuck in 9-to-5s in monotonous routine

And any hope we had seems distant and obscene.

In Shah’s songs, madness, despair, its roommate hopelessness and even marital discord never sounded so good. Or so well lived. The track we’re featuring worms its way right into the place that best suits it: your sense of the grandness of human limitations. 


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