What I like --- no love --- about Shura's Nothing's Real is that it sounds familiar.
Okay, fair, it is largely compiled with songs that introduced the Manchester native to the masses over the course of two years, but aside from its recognized tracklist, Nothing's Real evokes a sound 20-years its senior. One listen and you'll hear the familiar sounds of cagey drums and processed guitar beds, hear how it sophisti-pops and cosmic climbs to the keytar heavens. Nothing's Real wears the 1980s like the yuppie-lush Member's Only jacket that it is, unapologetically.
Still what might cause an eyebrow to raise is that Nothing's Real is a Millennial's reflection of the era. All of what's on here is second-hand nostalgia that is vicariously lived through Molly Ringwald's eyes, as Shura is 25 years young, and didn't even breathe a breath in the decade she captures right down to the neon piping and its fraught kinetics. She's so detailed, so dead-on that you wonder if Shura has had some sort of collision with the time-space continuum, and she's either time traveling or she's older than she's actually stating, on that immortal-being steez.
Well, whether its cosmic intervention or just a loving appreciation for the New Wave oeuvre (I'm going with the latter), Shura isn't alone with wanting to stop the world and melt oh-so-'80s. Nothing's Real aligns itself with a galaxy of 'Millennial' alt-pop albums (HAIM's Days Are Gone, La Roux's 2009 self-titled debut, Blood Orange's Cupid's Deluxe, and Ladyhawke's 2008 self-title debut for starters) that turn back the clock and talk its strident synth-pop talk so much you expect Pretty In Pink's Andie and Duckie to walk into prom hand-in-hand with it blaring in the background.
Shameless it all is, but Nothing's Real while marinated in the processed synth n' splendor and reading from the textbook of every John Hughes high school drama ever, doesn't feel like its exploring the sound because Shura is getting her Columbus on. She's not stating with this that she eureka! discovered how to work synths and programmers like a Baby Howard Jones, but more so she's giving credence to it timelessness, and noticing how well the past can work in the present.
Nothing's Real also basks in its archetypal Britishness, as its theatrical and examines matters of the heart with allegorical and anthropological flair this side of ABC and Spandau Ballet, digging deeper than what is on the plasticity of its pop veneer. The opening title track is epic in the sense of its dramatic instrumental entrance with shooting star synths, sweep of strings, echoing Duran Duran and ABC's sensibility to combine Chic with Roxy Music. The glorious back-to-back duo of "Tongue Tied" and "Make It Up" owes itself to the languid lullabies and thatched drumwork of Teases & Dares-era Kim Wilde. And for just a spell Shura hops a flight across the Atlantic to the City of Angels as the effervescent "What's It Gonna Be?" swings in the Cali harmonies of Lindsey Buckingham, and "What Happened To Us?" is ocean sprayed The Bangles style.
Contrary to its make-up, the bulk of the album doesn't lean on nostalgic bombast in order to get the point across. Shura is keen to pull back on her catch-all synth sound so as to not have it shield her heart. She bears it, bloodletting, exposing how it thwarts with her brain's practicality, and we have a front row seat to all the intimate, but awkward blushing and conflicting nail biting.
As she's looking back sonically, Shura's also looking back at relationships past, and aside from being in the throws of affectionate afterglow, she's examining her faults, trying to configure what went wrong and where she fits in the aftermath. On debut single, "Touch", she falls head first into love, but when past histories begin to unfurl, she's suspended, in limbo, trying to read between loves lines, angles and rhymes. Her wistfulness is felt on "What Happened To Us?", a song that also sounds more Gwen Stefani than Gwen Stefani does these days, is impassioned, as she views a past love from afar, debating on if she should confront them, forgoing it in the end since they were "peacefully reading a magazine". On "Kidz N' Stuff" she has a Sliding Doors moment, imagining the familial set-up she would've had if the breakup hadn't endured.
She's also aware of the relationship within herself, as she states on "What Happened To Us?" "she's no child, but she doesn't feel grown up" (Girl, I feel ya...), fearing age and trying to embrace it in one salty gulp. Age doesn't usher in insta-wisdom, that type of enlighten plane you have work at reaching and Shura is well, like most Millennials in their twenties, a bit peeved that everything from streaming movies and app downloads are fast-paced and yet, here you are in fucking slow motion.
The journey to adult is arduous and long, and Shura sighs and wades trough the indecisiveness, the unreciprocated love ("Indecision"), the false fronts and lies she tells herself to keep going ("Tongue-Tied"), and even revisits the false alarm panic attack that drew the inspiration for the album's title, and really its overall theme, complete with a recording of her three-year-old self screaming because that's how you feel at twenty-something ---- you feel like wailing, baby style. The pithy response to such internal struggle is always done in a passive tone, that your perception to life's speed bumps is that it's all mental, not even there. Shura isn't here for that kind of talk, as she told FADER in an interview, such talk "[Is]meant to be comforting, but it’s not. Like, 'So I feel like I’m dying, but I'm fine?' It's antagonistic—like how I used to say 'pull yourself together' to my friends who were struggling." It's pure deflection talk, because the growing pains are for real, the butterflies in the stomach flutter are real, and the awkwardness that burns on the back of the neck is real, and Shura sees it, understands it to her limits, and pegs it all dead on.
As if coming of age in 1980s nostalgia was grand statement enough, Shura achieves an unthinkable feat by also re-purposing the sounds and aesthetics of the decade's two biggest diva disciples, which are none other than: Janet Jackson and Madonna.
Bold the attempt is, but Shura avoids stumbling face-first into such a task by not aping their sounds outright, as she cherry-picks particular elements, and then builds off of them. "2Shy"captures the tender vulnerability of Control-era Janet in its careful craft, and what she lacks in spunky kittenish bravado, Shura incorporates Janet's sense of enigmatic sensuality, getting it just at the fine tip of the R&B legend. And if I was to draw parallels, Nothing's Real and Janet's coming-of-age opus Control are perfect examples of how to turn the kicks and screams into adulthood into legitimate, danceable art.
As for Madonna, Shura has targeted her early days back when she was young, hungry, and was re-fashioning disco for a new era with a bright red lipsticked smile, as "Indecision" has that "Holiday" je ne sai quoi, it swinging with joyous lift like the multiple crucifixes that adorned the Material Girl's neck at one time.
As the landscape of this album is epic in scope, you'd assume that Shura had a slew of producers on board to assist, but aside from Greg Kurstin popping his head in to produce a few numbers, the rest of the album is co-produced and handled by Shura. With Athlete frontman, Joel Pott at her side, Shura plays keyboards and compiles the beats, making this larger than life album, an intimate affair figuratively.
When I use words like 'intimate' and 'familiar', I mean it. Nothing's Real is an album that for all of its vicariously lived nostalgia, its discussions of being detached in relationships, and Shura going out of body to do autopsies on herself, this is and album that feels faithful to self, to life, to growing up and being in a mixed cocktail of emotion about it. These sounds, these feelings, these are Shura's...and they are well, myself, and everybody who has come to that craggy mountain climb called adulthood.
Shura may not be a child, and she may not feel grown up yet, but with her exceptional debut, she sure as hell has accurately and intelligently framed the various snapshots of what it's like to stumble into adulthood, but still have hope alive enough to dance within its dissipating quicksand.
+ Nothing's Real is available to purchase via Apple Music and stream via Spotify