It is a journalistic cliché to describe an artist releasing new material after a hiatus as making a welcome return. However, after all Nadine Shah has been through since the completion of 2020’s ‘Kitchen Sink’, on this occasion it is surely warranted. The intervening years have seen the death of Shah’s terminally ill mother, followed by Shah suffering addiction, a suicide attempt, divorce and rehab. Under those circumstances, any new music would be a cause for celebration, let alone the fact that ‘Filthy Underneath’ rivals her best work and mines these experiences in a manner that is equal parts pithy, moving and comedic.

One of the most appealing aspects of Shah’s music has been her ability to incorporate esoteric influences into the indie rock stylings of her songs. ‘Filthy Underneath’ reflects her post-bereavement listening choices: Iranian pop icon Googoosh, Indian disco queen Asha Puthli and lots of glam rock while anything vaguely sentimental was too much to process. Fortunately, a constant for Shah has remained the presence of regular musical collaborator and producer, Ben Hiller, and they have combined to create some remarkable music from the first blasts of noise, synths and infectious bass groove on ‘Even Light’. While throughout her career Shah has always made compelling use of low notes and singing in her native north-east accent, this marks a welcome exploration of the higher end of her register as she converses with her inner child (“Are your feelings hurt / Is your ego bruised / Am I touching on a nerve / Easily amused”.)

The thrilling rockabilly shuffle and percussive assault of ‘Topless Mother’ is based on tense sessions with a counsellor, the chorus consisting of entertaining free word association (“Sinatra Viagra Iguana Sharia Diana Samosa Varuca Tequila Banana Alaska Medusa Gorilla”.) ‘Food For Fuel’ takes on board the harmonic principles of Sufi Qawwali music icons like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida Parveen and sounds extraordinary while she regretfully asks, “Why am I as I was before”. Hiller’s musical accompaniment completes the mood perfectly. The Eastern electric funk of ‘You Drive I Shoot’ revisits an aspect of Shah’s caring responsibilities in driving her mother to endless hospital appointments and how roles had been reversed with mother becoming child. ‘Keeping Score’ recounts her experience of sexual assault and suggestions of victim blaming to a soundtrack of circling synths, Shah belting out the chorus, “the world is on fire”.

‘Sad Lads Anonymous’ has brittle yet buoyant rhythms and some tough shards of guitar and mutilated synths. Her spoken word vocal serves as a reminder to those who have seen her perform live of how her gigs include a procession of comic, self-skewering between-song monologues: “The sea’s not the only thing here that’s full of shite” and later confessing “The band left hours ago, according to the work experience kid that I’m currently telling all my deepest darkest secrets to in a toilet cubicle.”

One of the album’s highest of highlights, ‘Greatest Dancer’, has a Glitter Band-like drum onslaught, exhilarating synth fanfare and Shah in especially florid voice. The song is influenced by lockdown Saturday nights watching Strictly with her mother and reflects the hallucinogenic results of swallowing an Oramorph and having visions of dancers coming through the screen. In contrast, ‘See My Girl’ is musically more sedate but incredibly tender as she recalls her mother’s “dimple cheeks, Scandi beauty’, and memories of her dressed in leopard print and singing out of tune. It is devastating in its detail.

‘Twenty Things’ sketches her relationship with the people she encountered in rehab, from those who had delusions of writing songs for Elvis or thinking they were Hollywood stars through to criminals. Maybe the repetition matches the days in rehab but it feels one of the least interesting pieces musically. The desperately sad ‘Hyperrealism’ sees her channelling Annie Lennox’s ‘Love Song For A Vampire’ amidst the realisation that even love is not enough to save her marriage. Aptly, ‘French Exit’ is saved for last. It is named for the practice of leaving a social occasion without announcing your exit but recounts details of her suicide attempt (“Pizza box lid / When I couldn’t find paper…. Reapplied lipstick / A clown who counts the downers”.) Far from glamorizing suicide, it makes it appear cheap, tawdry but desperate to the soundtrack of a looped, unpeeling synth.

While ‘Filthy Underneath’ lays bare a traumatic period of Shah’s life, it does so with such wit, verve and wild musical imagination to override the trauma.

Nadine Shah: Filthy Underneath – Out 23rd February 2024 (EMI North)

Shah – Greatest Dancer (

I was editor of the long-running fanzine, Plane Truth, and have subsequently written for a number of publications. While the zine was known for championing the most angular independent sounds, performing in recent years with a community samba percussion band helped to broaden my tastes so that in 2021 I am far more likely to be celebrating an eclectic mix of sounds and enthusing about Made Kuti, Anthony Joseph, Little Simz and the Soul Jazz Cuban compilations as well as Pom Poko and Richard Dawson.