Pianist and singer-songwriter Nellie McKay's depressed, impressionist satire, her light jazzy touch, and her rich musical talent, result in an impressive self-written double CD. She falls somewhere between pop, jazz and hip hop - a left-wing one-woman musical packed with New Yorkish personal anachronisms, and political pretensions.
Her list of suggestions for rainy day activities includes making a dartboard of the mayor. Her original choices for album title included "Penis Envy" or "Black America", titles that, like the final choice (Get Away from Me), imply frustration, revulsion at the world's wickedness, and teenage temper.
Nellie's lyrics are loaded with passionately un-PC lefty polemics. Many resemble tantrums as much as they do music. And the rough edges mingle with the essential softness of her nature, which she exposes rashly, sometimes embarrassingly, in every song.
She's crazy about animals, with the accent on crazy - she virtually writes love songs about them. In "The Dog Song", a dog she adopts from PETA's animal home (PETA are like the SPCA, but more politicised and perhaps a bit more extreme) saves her from misery and drunkenness.
She's anti-Bush in a fashionably world weary way. She's witty, self deprecating, and occasionally funny in her melodrama.
Some of her songs seem designed to alienate all men - be they SNAGs or A-Type Bastards - by boxing them, blaming them, and threatening them with death if they reject her. Which all smells unpleasantly of the kind of act you often witness drunk attractive female Sociology students putting on in bars. You know the drill: I hate you, but to quote Nellie, "pour me a drink, I don't want to think..."
There's the occasional hastily rhymed lyric that really makes you cringe. Well, Frank Zappa got away with it, didn't he? Why shouldn't Nelly McKay? It shouldn't matter that Frank had something completely different in mind when he referred to "puppies" or "beaver".
The album has one of those strangely attractive Parental Advisory stickers on it, but something tells me it's there more because of the criticisms Nellie makes of family values and politics, than because of the language she uses - there's nothing filthier than the occasional F or C-word, (all in context), on the album.
The essential message is really this: There is so much wrong with the world. It doesn't need to be wrong and this is driving me MAD. And mad she goes, on the hilariously staged "Ding Dong" - "Ding dong there's the doorbell / Hello men in white" that somehow manages to bring the death of a cat, mental breakdown, prescription drugs, consumer culture and left wing politics together in a dark but cartoonlike whirl, all beautifully sung, performed and arranged.
If Nellie stops suffering from what appears to be rather crippling PMT (but stays this spirited), she could realise a truly unusual talent by stripping off what seems just gimmicky and irritating, leaving her comic and musical muscle to flex unfettered. It's refreshing to know that there's at least one teen pop talent out there who thinks it's ok to think and care, and to make really good music too.
- Jean Barker
Nellie McKay renews what is old and hurls herself at what is new.- Sasha Frere-Jones for the New Yorker
If McKay can grow and mature without losing her fire and versatility, she might wind up being one of the most significant artists of the 21st century.- Ian Mathers for Stylus Magazine
McKay can't decide whether she'll grow up to be Dorothy Parker or Holly Golightly, and by splitting the difference, she only catches the funny parts of either. Next time she'll need to give us more depth, to sustain us when the cute wears off.- Chris Dahlen for Pitchfork
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