Missy Higgins — Oz
♦♦♦ “Higgins has made these much–loved tracks sing with a bold, new voice.” Carley Hall
Born: August 19, 1983 in Melbourne, Australia
Also known as: Melissa Morrison Higgins
Notable instruments: Roland RD–700, Maton
Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Album release: September 15th, 2014
Record Label: Eleven/Universal
01. You Only Hide (Something for Kate) 2:45
02. Old Fitzroy (Dan Sultan) 4:00
03. NYE (Perry Keyes) 3:55
04. Shark Fin Blues (The Drones) 5:17
05. Was There Anything I Could Do (The Go-Betweens) 2:52
06. Back To The Wall (Divinyls) 3:54
07. Don’t Believe Anymore (Icehouse) 2:52
08. The Biggest Disappointment, feat. Dan Sultan (Slim Dusty) 3:03
09. Everybody Wants To Touch Me (Paul Kelly) 3:06
10. Curse On You (The Blackeyed Susans) 3:05
11. No Secrets (The Angels) 3:01
12. Before Too Long feat. Amanda Palmer (Paul Kelly) 4:21
13. Blackfella/Whitefella feat. Crystal Itjuwalyi Butcher (Warumpi Band) 4:11
14. Calm And Crystal Clear (Neil Murray) 3:43
15. The Way You Are Tonight (Don Walker) 5:04
℗ 2014 Missy Higgins
REVIEW, Score: ****
♦♦♦ Taking on Australian music icons when not far from being one herself, Missy Higgins has embarked on an unusual but rewarding journey for her latest album, comprising entirely covers of Something For Kate, Dan Sultan, The Angels, Slim Dusty, Paul Kelly, The Drones and more.
♦♦♦ Rather than take her experiment down a worn path, Higgins digs beyond the more well-known favourites of her chosen homages. It’s a smart decision; with her very distinct, raw vocal she’s able to offer a bare but commanding slant on obscure picks from our rock and pop flagbearers.
♦♦♦ There are inevitable and obvious standouts on OZ. Higgins’ lush symphonic rendering of The Drones’ guttural Shark Fin Blues is arguably the best on the album. She manages to retain Gareth Liddiard’s bleak resignation but her sparse arrangement of piano and uplifting strings injects a sliver of hope into the murk. There’s no escaping Chrissy Amphlett’s pout seeping into a stark version of the Divinyls’ Back To The Wall and Higgins certainly doesn’t shy away from doing so, nor does she meddle too much with Iva Davies’ bombast in Icehouse’s Don’t Believe Anymore. Other covers offer treatments just as fascinating; You Only Hide takes Something For Kate to a sweeter place, Everybody Wants To Touch Me oozes the same sensuality Paul Kelly instilled it with, as does The Blackeyed Susans’ Curse On You.
♦♦♦ Higgins has made these much-loved tracks sing with a bold, new voice yet with a deft touch that enhances without ever staking an egotistical claim. Fortaken: http://themusic.com.au/
♦♦♦ theguardian.com, Friday 19 September 2014 02.13 BST; Score: ***
♦♦♦ This well-intentioned if overly chirpy project captures the singer’s love for her country, even as it flattens out its music. But who else could make Cold Chisel sound beautiful?
♦♦♦ It’s perhaps unfortunate that Missy Higgins chose to publicise her latest venture, Oz — an album’s worth of Australian cover versions, augmented by a book of essays explaining her connection to the songs — with her reading of the Drones’ tumultuous Shark Fin Blues.
♦♦♦ The original, which was voted greatest Australian song in a poll of contemporary Aussie songwriters in 2009, is caustic, acerbic and supremely bitter. Gareth Liddiard’s voice is laden down with the weight of the blues and his disgust at contemporary life. On the original, the guitars writhe and bite like fighting snakes.
♦♦♦ Missy Higgins has removed the guitars, added some very tasteful piano and backing vocals, and allowed space and sunlight into the claustrophobia. She’s given it room to have a think about its anger. She’s prettified it. And it is so wrong. Adult contemporary rock brought to a form that never deserved it.
♦♦♦ Likewise the song that follows on this 15–track album — a polite reading of The Go–Betweens’ Was There Anything I Can Do (taken from the Brisbane band’s sumptuous 1988 album 16 Lovers Lane). The original might have felt gentle, but it layered hidden intricacies and ebbs and swells of emotion beneath the surface. Higgins replaces these with a drawn–out beat and the occasional elongated vowel.
♦♦♦ As I say, unfortunate — because, in the main, Higgins’s fourth studio album is a likeable and well–intentioned affair, whose opening tracks give a false impression. Far better to listen to her upbeat, playful version of Sydney songwriter Perry Keyes’ observational and humorous NYE or the spirited string–laden Amanda Palmer duet that carols through Paul Kelly’s Before Too Long, which capture her clear joy and love for both her country and her country’s music.
♦♦♦ She also gets under the skin of a second Paul Kelly cover, Everybody Wants To Touch Me, wailing and mourning in a way she doesn’t manage elsewhere. And her take on The Blackeyed Susans’ Curse On You, with James Bond-esque refrain, is charming enough.
♦♦♦ A collection of covers is always an ambitious undertaking. You run the risk of having your versions compared to the originals, and if you (as an artist) have any regard for the originals whatsoever — and presumably you do, otherwise why else would you have picked them? — then you’re on a hiding to nothing. Early in an artist’s career, cover versions can be the standout in the live set because here are the songs they’ve grown up with, lived with and breathed. Can the same apply to an entire 15-song set, many of which were sought out for this very project?
♦♦♦ In her book, Missy Higgins argues — often persuasively — that it can. ♦♦♦ “Something about Paul [Dempsey]’s lyrics on that record spoke directly to my teenage angst, my despair at not understanding my place in the world, my introspective and (sometimes) depressive nature,” she writes about Something For Kate’s You Only Hide, a cover of which opens the album. “Music can be such a friend during those times.”
♦♦♦ Oz, the book, is wonderful. Without the benefit of her never prosaic explanations, the album’s cover versions often pale next to the originals. With them, she breathes hidden life into her music. She imparts the gift of intention. I suspect I ain’t never going to love her version of Shark Fin Blues, but I can certainly empathise with her love for The Drones.
♦♦♦ “The Drones did a version of River Of Tears … I’d never heard anything like the way Gareth [Liddiard, Drones singer] sang it,” she writes. “He sang and played like his very existence depended on it: writhing against his guitar, strangling its neck as though it was the instrument through which the demons would be exorcised from his body, spitting out every word into a bended microphone.”
♦♦♦ In print, she comes across as personable, enthusiastic and genuine (particularly in a killer essay on The Divinyls’ Chrissy Amphlett that is crying out to be reprinted in its entirety). I’m not questioning her sincerity, just her interpretative ability.
♦♦♦ The stripped–back reading of Slim Dusty’s The Biggest Disappointment — a duet with another featured artist Dan Sultan — is pretty cool though. Her voice retains much of the intimacy that endeared Missy Higgins to her fans in the first place. And in the singer’s favour, most of the songs here are recognisable as Missy Higgins, although I can do without her chirpy take on The Warumpi Band’s pivotal Blackfella/Whitefella, even with its warm guest vocal from Alice Springs’ Crystal Itjuwalyi Butcher.
♦♦♦ Having Missy Higgins cover a series of widely disparate songs in her trademark style leads to an unintentional levelling off, a flattening of variety. Whether this is to the album’s detriment will come down to how much you like Missy Higgins. There’s a genuinely beautiful (albeit tastefully histrionic) version of former Cold Chisel songwriter Don Walker’s The Way You Are Tonight to close the album out. And there are three words I didn’t think I’d ever type in the same sentence: Cold Chisel and beautiful.
But, as Higgins writes: “This song sounds like a classic. It feels like it could have been written in the 30s and sung by all the greats: Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday... that’s why we couldn’t change it too much. Almost every other track on this album was flipped inside out, but this one couldn’t be tampered with.” :: http://www.theguardian.com/
Artist Biography by Johnny Loftus
♦♦♦ With a flair for poignant ballads and pop/rock singles, Missy Higgins became one of Australia's most popular artists during the early 21st century. Her songwriting career began in Melbourne, where she attended boarding school and balanced her time between academics and music. Higgins' sister got ahold of "All for Believing," one of Missy's earliest songs, and mailed a copy to Australia's Triple J radio station without her sister's consent. The song ended up winning an unsigned artist competition named Triple J Unearthed, which effectively sparked Higgins' career as a singer/songwriter.
♦♦♦ After signing with Eleven, the same Australian record company used by such homeland heroes as Silverchair, Higgins issued a self-titled EP in November 2003. The Scar EP appeared in August 2004 and set the scene for her full-length debut, Sound of White, which appeared the following September. Sound of White proved to be remarkably successful, remaining on the Australian charts for two years and going platinum nine times. Higgins then set her sights on America, where she made her debut in January 2005 with the domestic-only All for Believing EP. Released through Warner Bros., it included the title track and four other songs cherry-picked from the Sound of White LP (which was reissued in the U.S. shortly thereafter).
♦♦♦ Missy Higgins issued her sophomore album, On a Clear Night, in 2007, with an American release following in early 2008. While Sound of White had emphasized Higgins' flair for piano, On a Clear Night featured a new emphasis on guitar, which Higgins had used to compose the majority of the tracks. "Steer," the album's leadoff single, became her second number one hit in Australia.
♦♦♦ After finishing up with touring and promoting the album, Higgins took some time off from music. In 2010, she enrolled in college at the University of Melbourne and acted in the Australian film Bran Nue Dae. She never strayed far from music, though, and after meeting fellow singer/songwriter Butterfly Boucher while playing Lilith Fair shows in the summer of 2010, went to Nashville to record her next album with Boucher’s help. The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle was released in June 2012, promptly debuting at the top of the Australian charts (her third straight album to reach number one). Higgins' next work was an album of Aussie cover versions, titled OZ, that also became the name of an accompanying book as well as a tour. It appeared in September of 2014.
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