Saturday, December 20, 2008

Missy Higgins: On A Clear Night

"On A Clear Night", Australian singer and songwriter Missy Higgins' second major studio album, presents an interesting blend of pop styles from easy listening to jazz laced to moderate rock. Pacing of the album alternates between slow and quiet and more up-beat and syncopated rhythms so it does not bog down after the first song. Though the first song itself is rather slow and quiet for an opening track.

While the album presents several different moods I am not sure it ever introduced Missy Higgins the individual musician. Young artists are often over-produced and have less input and little control over their music. I
n the case of "On A Clear Night" I am hearing a lot of other female performers that I have listened to in the past. I hear at least strong whispers of the likes of Aimee Mann, Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos (though definitely not Amos' virtuosity on the piano), all the way back to Rickie Lee Jones. I was hoping for a more distinctive sound from Higgins, maybe along the lines of her age peer Anna Nalick and her debut album "Wreck of the Day", which came out in 2004 about the same time as Higgins first Australian releases.

Granted, I'm not the core demographic for most early twenty's female songwriters who are finally releasing their latent teenage angst in their music and lyrics. Gir
ls and young woman in their teens and early twenty's will surely relate to, and appreciate, Missy Higgins lyrics and musical moods much more than I do. However, I can appreciate a pleasant voice and well produced album. Higgins' songwriting, and/or prehaps the producers, relies on lengthy repeated choruses, often twice as long as the verses to craft most of her songs.

The most enjoyable songs on the album for me were "jazzy" with more intricate and syncopated rhythms such as Secret and The Wrong Girl. The song Peachy reminds me of Rickie Lee Jones debut 30 years ago. Steer, the album's first single, is good fast-paced radio pop with the repeated five-line chorus making up two thirds of the song, you will probably hear the catch-phrase "you can steer" being bandied about.

The song that most grabbed my attention on first play, and in my opinion the best song on the album, is the second track 100 Round the Bends. Another song invoking Rickie Lee Jones images musically during the first and third segments. After a driving start this song about "feeling rage is feeling real" Higgins invites you to "jump in my car we'll go 100 round the bends" , then the song takes a strangely airy bridge just over half way through, before shifting back into high gear for a final go at "100 round the bends" to drive it all home.

Drawing inspiration from earlier performers is all well and good, but I think Missy Higgins needs to discover and define her own distinct voice, both in singing and as a songwriter, so she stands out from the crowd of todays young female pop artists. But what I want and what we got here are different things. On A Clear Night is good music with quality producing, Missy Higgins has a pleasant voice to listen to, and while I personally found only a couple standout songs the whole album is a good listen.

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