Review: Holiday Destination

Jane O'Connor 8 September 2017

On her third album, Nadine Shah delivers a strident, acerbic reaction to the present state of British and world politics. Holiday Destination takes aim at everything from Brexit to Donald Trump, from gentrification to the inhumanity of Europe’s treatment of refugees; indeed, the title of the album refers to the island of Kos, which has come to double as a sunny destination for tourists and a landfall for refugees escaping Syria.

Musically, Shah diverges from both the piano ballads of her debut LP and the more conventional indie rock sound of her second, instead opting for a style that is as cultivated as it is innovative. Holiday Destination draws inspiration from the rhythmic angst of Simple Minds’ Empires and Dance, the furious energy of PJ Harvey’s Dry, and the ominous drone of Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree, without ever sounding less than fresh and ambitious – the album’s mood is equal parts anxious and confident, as Shah lays bare the righteous indignation she feels.

Also central to Holiday Destination is Shah’s experience of the world as a mixed-race woman in her early 30s, and nowhere is this more explicit than on the sequential tracks ‘2016’ and ‘Out the Way’. The former sees Shah letting us into her world, relating the feelings of isolation and discomfort she feels surrounding her body and eating habits, candidly describing the “purging” and “detoxing” that she and her friends undergo. The latter meanwhile is a brooding return to assertive form, with Shah coolly shutting down the xenophobia she experiences: “Where would you have me go? / I’m second generation, don’t you know?”

Holiday Destination is a timely record, one which perfectly encapsulates the mood of young, left-wing people in mid-2017. Shah is direct and interrogatory, with questions littered throughout her probing lyrics. On the title track, she asks “But where’s the locals and living, pushed out ‘cos of the price?”, a line followed directly by the song’s pointed hook, sung with a determination that demands answers: “How you gonna sleep tonight?” Elsewhere, the tone of Shah’s questioning is more plaintive, as on ‘2016’ when she asks, “What is there left to inspire us with a fascist in the White House?”

It’s a clichéd line, but you could do worse than albums like this one. Holiday Destination is a true tour de force, one of the most topical and frank records of the year. Nadine Shah presents her grievances artfully, and the questions she asks throughout the album linger long beyond its runtime.