On her ambitiously paper-thin debut, Get Away From Me, Nellie McKay sings about misogyny, cosmopolitan arrogance, mundane jobs, adolescent indifference and the death of a stray kitten she rescued.
This first effort is eclectic, to say the least. It teems with pop-culture references about everything from the recently arrested Phil Spector to German auteur Fritz Lang. The only thing it lacks is subtlety.
Nellie McKay is angry. But instead of blowing off steam with riot-girl aggression a la L7 or (I can’t believe I’m saying this) Pink, she channels the ghost of Frank Sinatra. The bulk of the record has a whimsical tone, but her sharp lyrics drip with sarcasm. Despite her sugary-sweet melodies, McKay is at her best when hyperactively kicking into tirade mode. “Change the World” cashes in on this virtue with “feeling dense/on the fence/civil disobedience.”
McKay convinced Columbia to let her release the album as a double-disc, hoping to evoke the nostalgia of flipping over an LP. But this tactic fails when she throws most of the best songs on “side one.” The album opens with “David,” a quaint little ballad with a reggae-esque back beat and more heart in its chorus than anything on the rest of the album. That is not necessarily a bad thing since her distaste for the sentimental provides the backbone of the record.
The easy listening is interrupted by the album’s early-peaking “Sari,” (pronounced “sorry”) which is supported by what actually sounds like a Wesley Willis keyboard demo. Good thing there are lyrics like “your life’s affliction is the fiction of Faust,” to help make it work.
Here the half-Spanish, half-Irish crooner raps with a rhythmless, raw inhibition rarely heard in hip-hop. Some might call it haphazard, but McKay proves with the rest of her otherwise polished album that she is no slob. She spits out the rhymes so fast that she virtually skips over whole phrases at a time, which is not only excusable (in an Albert-Einstein-is-too-busy-being-brilliant-to-comb-his-hair-properly sort of way), but downright delightful.