Wednesday, October 14, 2009

CD Review: MISSY HIGGINS - ON A CLEAR NIGHT (Eleven:A Music Company)

Monday, May 21, 2007 

With this, her sophomore release, Australia's favourite youth-MOR songstress seems to take all the lessons learned from the platinum-hemorrhaging The Sound of White and built another tower of gentle tinkling and big-themed-ballads which will no doubt thrill those who already hold a soft spot for her. Who exactly these people are I'm yet to know, but they seem to number in the hundreds of thousands and have enough money to buy her CDs.
On A Clear Night sees her working with producer Mitchell Froom (Crowded House, Paul McCartney and ex-wife Suzanne Vega) his everything-but-the-kitchen-sink style is thankfully bypassed, instead Missy and a breezy sense of freedom is pushed to the fore. With one eye on the US market you can see the country-ish aspect of her tightly-written songs are embraced by the subtle arrangements and occasional dip into intimate low-fi textures of the Blasko/New Buffalo/Bowditch/Cloher variety. Another influence that you can notice wasn't there on the last record is the broad-vowelled Oz-country sounds which are all over the non-single tracks like Angela, Going North and The Wrong Girl, probably helped by the fact that she apparently wrote this album during a seclusion in Broome. This is wonderfully suited to her voice and she is without a doubt a talent, but it's what she does with this that renders it so forgettable. Oddly asexual in her depiction of people and relationships, Higgins record is full of lyrics as sincere as any emo band's; "So move aside she has arrived / With her baby neck and sleepy eyes / She has heels that walk all over you / She's a danger you're addicted to" or her cod-gospel lyrics to Forgive Me; "Oh my God how you make it hard / Not to pick the apple / Pick the apple, and Lord I long to give it back". In the hands of Amy Winehouse we could be on our knees at this sentiment, it's just hard to feel any impact when she seems so detached and passionless about her subjects.

Steer is the most effective of the tracks here and has a melody and dynamic no other track echoes; many of these sound like they could have come from an evening jamming with The Audreys, and it's surprising they survived the LA recording session and Froom's intimidating resume in their resolute ockerness. These Oz-country influences paint themselves across the blank canvas that Higgins' was accused of being on her last album, which is remarkable given the experience she's had in the industry (first JJJ airplay in 2001), still the industry does love malleability. Until then, this could be the release that eases it's way into the US mainstream with its great production and easy-going feel, one decent Dixiechicks support slot should see to that, assuming they can remember the songs after pressing stop.

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