Monday, April 30, 2007

Record Review: On A Clear Night by Missy Higgins

The Sophomore Jinx; it exists in many different realms be it Sports, Arts, the dating scene or music. How many musical acts have put out that amazing first record, which is filled with years worth of writing and work only to fall flat on their face the second time around. For a lot of them it's because they try to rush that second record out to be able to ride the wave of good press they have from the first. The problem with that is they rarely have the time during the tour for the first record to take the time to write good songs, and they are overly influenced by their production team in an effort to compensate.

There are a few who take the time to get it right, however, and thank god for one such artist: Missy Higgins. She hit it big in Australia after winning a radio station's unsigned acts competition. Rather then rushing into her first record, since she was only in her teens at the time, she traveled around and lived a bit of life. Once made that record sold nearly 900,000 copy's which is almost one for every 20 people in Australia. To get that kind of coverage in America an act would have to sell 15 Million records! So you can bet that she felt a ton of pressure to get right back in the studio and make that second record right away. She didn't do that, though. Rather she took two more years to live some more, and become an even more complete writer.

That second record, On A Clear Night, hit Aussie stores on April 28th, but is available to listen to on MySpace. There are only 11 tracks on the record, but they are more than sufficient to let us, the listener, know where Missy is now, at 23. There are still tales of love and loss, but there are also upbeat observations of what life can be. One thing that certainly hasn't changed is Missy's amazingly unique singing voice complete with her Aussie accent.

My favorite track on the record is "Going North" which tells the tale of a person who is ready to try something new in their life. She wrote the song in Broome, which is a small country town "where the desert meets the sea" in northern Australia. The song features a line that I think encapsulates the feeling behind chucking it all and just going... anywhere, an urge I have often. "So goodbye for a while, I'm off to learn more about who I really was before." Missy accomplished this in Broome, but we all can think of the one place we'd like to run to.

While in Broome Missy says she stared up at the night's sky one night and found perspective. In that part of the world you can see all the stars in the southern hemisphere and most of the ones in the Northern hemisphere as well. While looking at them Missy says she knew that she had to be in control of her life, because she realised how small she was in the massive scheme of things. It was from this experience that she wrote the first hit single from the record, "Steer". One read through the lyrics of "Steer" is enough to make you want to seize control of your life, if only we all had as much control as young Missy does.

Missy not only writes from her own life, but also pens songs that are flights of fancy. Her song "Forgive Me" wraps up the album and seems to be an apology from a man who has cheated on his wife. Missy tells a story on stage about the time in College (that's high school to you Yank) when she wrote a short peice of fiction about the same topic. When her father came to class he was upset to find out that the teacher thought the story was about him. Another fictional song on the record is "Angela" which Missy says was inspired by seeing a photo of Vivian Leigh being held by Clark Gable. Rather than believe that Vivian was helplessly dependant on Clark, Missy chose to see it as Vivian having Clark wrapped around her little finger. This made her think of a number of women she knows who embody this same spirit and she wrote "Angela, you're a danger he's addicted to."

There are no misses on this record, and there's a little bit for every one. "100 Round The Bends" "Steer" and "Peachy" are faster paced songs with catchy hooks, although the latter has a bit of a bitter tinge to it. "Forgive Me" and "Going North" are slower and more soulful as they build to a crescendo. "Warm Whispers" features a fantastic bit of keyboard and smooth cooing vocals while "Secret" is an open letter to a secret lover sung over three deep notes.

One other stand out track on the record is "Sugarcane" with it's poignant portrayal of life under the microscope of a judgmental world. "You see my peep-show booth is handy, there's a one way only mirror. So I can dance and let my hair down, but I don't see if you get bitter. There's a button right beside me, if I want a wall to hide me. If only the ballerina had one too." Higgins has a way with words that make the images in her songs accessible to just about anyone who takes the time to think about their own life. Introspection can be a hard process to go through, but Missy has something to say about that as well on the track "The Wrong Girl." "So the flood gates open, but nothing comes out. I'm feeling no relief in my head, just doubt. My heart keeps telling me 'hold your ground, you'll never learn a thing if you bail out now.'"

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