When I read that Shura (Alexandra Lilah Denton) had decided to name her album ‘Nothing’s Real’, I was afraid that she’d turned a toilet epiphany (à la Scrubs) into the concept of her debut album.
I have justification for my fear: Shura explained, in an interview with V magazine, that the title was inspired by a conversation with an ex, who said (word for word exaggerated by me): “The past is the past, man, it doesn’t exist anymore, you can never touch the future because there will always be another tomorrow, so only the present exists – soak that wisdom up.” *takes emphatic drag of cigarette* So, maybe this is a philosophical concept album, though I think she’s just fucking with us with a tongue in cheek “deep” title.
Shura also explains that the title is a description of a panic attack she suffered. About four months after she received her record deal, following the release and overwhelming online popularity of the single ‘Touch’, she woke up and thought she was having a heart attack. She called an ambulance and went to hospital, only to be told that she wasn’t really dying. The pain was in her head, but the pain felt as real as an actual heart attack.
Perhaps because she was faced with her mortality, Shura interweaves the voices of herself and her family from childhood home movies throughout the album, from the opening track to the last. Very few would have as great a corpus to choose from as her – a fortunate consequence of having a documentary maker for a father. Clearly family always has been important to Shura (especially her twin brother Nick), but it must have felt even more important after a brush with death, albeit more psychological than physical (if there’s that much of a distinction).
Denton stands out on the heartfelt and (generally) slower, thoughtful, reflective emotional pop tracks – ‘Touch’ introduced this as her style. Several other tracks fit this general mould, like ‘Kidz and Stuff’ about a breakup, a relationship doomed to failure from the start and ‘Indecision’, another standout track, telling the story of a somewhat one-sided relationship and its uncertain future. The album really comes into its own and, I imagine, creates the voice of teenage angst for this summer, in the second half of the album. If you feel I might be over-stressing the demographic and Shura’s style, take ‘What Happened To Us?’, another reflection on the complexities of a relationship where saying ‘I love you’ doesn’t solve every problem, in which she sings “I was never ready for your love // no I’m no child but I don’t feel grown up // I was never ready, it was never meant to be // so tell me how come I still feel so messed up.”
I could pretty fairly just list every song from the whole second half of the album and say: I love it. That’s because I’m not ashamed to say that I happily buy into the thoughtful emotional angst. It’s a phenomenal bunch of songs: take ‘Tongue Tied’, about all the complexities of falling in lust, or the cute and playful ‘2shy’, which tells the story of the friend too shy (and scared) to ask for something more, even though they want so much more. The penultimate track, ‘White Light’, is a 10 minute opus which, with its instrumental experience of an outro, will provide a stunning live finale.
Finally, the album finishes with another personal reflection, ‘New Year 311215’, when we’ll all be dust, including Shura and her family, but perhaps, hopefully, not her song. It’s a reflection on our place in time, the grand scheme of things and all that, so it’s a pretty appropriate ending. And that’s how I would have ended this review, but, to my surprise, Shura changed the tracklist to a new song: ‘The Space Tapes’.
So, rather than a 2 minute reflection of an ending, we have a 9 and a half minute … um … reflection of an ending. Both songs are rather similar: a musing on our place in the universe. The last 7 minutes or so of ‘The Space Tapes’ is a spaced out (lol see what I did there) instrumental. Perhaps the change in the final song was influenced by ‘White Light’’s emphatic instrumental outro, and thus a large instrumental section for the final track was born. Rather than the last track sounding like a bit of an afterthought after a 10 minute masterpiece, Shura has developed the final track into something that stands on its own, shoulder to shoulder with ‘White Light’. The two final tracks both provide an unexpected experience (in terms of her general pop sound), though they are still very much in line with the general thoughtful, introspective style.
So, in sum, despite Shura fucking with us with a this-is-deep-and-I’m-a-12-year-old-child-of-an-influential-handsome-man album title, this is a superb pop album. It’s well worth the wait, especially if you’re either a teenage in the throws of relationship woes or anyone who can remember that angst with a smug, patronising smile.