Eating Cheese on Toast: The commonplace revelations of Made of Bricks
by Jordan Peters
Last year marked the 10th anniversary of a revolutionary year for eleven-year-old Jordan. 2007 was the first time in my life that we had a Prime Minister who wasn’t John Howard. In 2007 I saw Nancy Meyers’s masterpiece The Holiday for the first time—and then a second time, straight afterwards. In 2007, I realised I was gay, a fact only further cemented by the music videos from Kylie Minogue’s comeback album. And in 2007, Kate Nash released her debut album, Made of Bricks.
I can understand those who are instantly allergic to the album’s proudly adolescent brand of pop—I can imagine if I heard it for the first time today, I’d come out in measles—but it was perfectly tailored for eleven-year-old Jordan, to whom the acts of inserting curse words into a chorus (not to mention a song title or two, in the case of ‘Shit Song’ and ‘Dickhead’), and having the audacity to open your album with a frankly terrible patchwork of Garageband loops, were delicious (radical?) in their naughtiness, and it’s since grown very close to my heart.
The careening comedy of errors ‘We Get On’ is a tailspin of unrequited attraction and romantic fantasy that perfectly exemplifies Nash’s fusion of no-frills songwriting and keen self-awareness.
As she sings gems like ‘I don’t even have an opinion/on that tramp that you’re still seeing’, she’s painting a portrait of selfish, unreasonable teendom, in which those things are neither demonised nor valorised. ‘Mouthwash’ is an energised proclamation of identity by someone who hasn’t actually been able to properly form a discernible identity yet—oddly specific but also defiantly banal. ‘Oh my god’, 2007-Jordan thought, ‘Kate uses mouthwash? She drinks tea? I also do all those things!’
‘Nicest Thing’ is a stream-of-consciousness scramble of longing where the greatest compliment she can muster for the object of her affection is ‘All I know is that/you’re so nice’. While Nash’s detractors rolled their eyes at her ‘plain old suburban English’, her confessions, like ‘I wish that you knew when I said two sugars/actually I meant three’ were so striking to me *because* of their almost pathetic, quotidian desperation. The silly trifle ‘Birds’ ends with the exchange, ‘She said “thanks, I like you too”/He said “cool”’, which ain’t Shakespeare, but what nineteen year old is?
Kate Nash’s output has fluctuated wildly since 2007, with as many exciting detours as totally ill-advised ones, sometimes overshooting and misunderstanding her own strengths and weaknesses along the way. Three years later, My Best Friend Is You (2010) had enough simple hooks and 60s throwback handclaps to last a lifetime, but also featured enough adventurous leaps into pseudo-slam poetry (‘Mansion Song’, ‘Don’t You Want To Share The Guilt?’) and atonal shrieking ‘I Just Love You More’ to feel like a surprising progression from her debut, if not an entirely successful one. The bindi-wearing, brazen Riot Grrrl Feminism™ of Girl Talk couldn’t help but feel lacking in 2013, and as time goes on some of her aphorisms have started to just sound like non-sequiturs, but it’s her most coherent album, and songs like ‘Death Proof’ and ‘Sister’ still slap.
But back to Made of Bricks, and her magnum opus (and only hit), ‘Foundations’. Here, through detailing a passive-aggressive dinner conversation and an actually-aggressive hangover, she finds genuine pathos in her attempts to salvage a relationship that’s slipping through her fingers. I’m now older than Nash was when she released this song, and while some would still dismiss it as simply featherweight Lily Allen-lite sassiness, ‘Foundations’ has a construction of mounting tension and sadness (however shrouded in droll humour) that feels more immediate than ever.
My music taste has obviously expanded in the years since 2007, but hearing ‘Foundations’, and then gradually downloading the rest of the album in a slow drip over the next six months, might have been the first time I realised art didn’t have to be solemn to mean something, that something genuinely human, flawed, and funny could also be placed over stupidly catchy jaunty piano riffs. Made of Bricks is far from a perfect album (or even a *good* one), but as a time-capsule to a year when I was just starting to discover the world, and discover myself, it’ll always have a place in my heart. What was so enticing about Kate Nash’s scrappy brickwork world was how fiercely confident she was in her angst *and* her joy; the world can be a scary place but it’s also a pretty silly one, too.