Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The curiously quirky pop of Kate Miller-Heidke

Perish the thought that anyone would think me (a) a musical snob, with a disdain for anything pop, given my remarks equating Madonna with Vivaldi (see 18th January) and (b) unAustralian, given my disdain for Australia Day (see 26th January), so I just wanted to prove today that I can really admire music that is both pop and Australian and so, heading back to work today after yesterday's (admittedly barbecued lamb free) public holiday, I set my iPod onto Brisbane born Kate Miller-Heidke's latest album Curiouser and turned up the volume a far as it would go.

Kate Miller-Heidke almost didn't become a famous pop singer and was in fact on the precipice of turning to Gilbert and Sullivan operetta (which is almost the same thing) when some of her earlier pop work began hitting the charts. It's good that she took the hint of public opinion, because Curiouser shows just how good music can be when you combine a really well-trained voice with some clever and original compositional talent and a desire to appeal to a record-buying public. They are three elements that don't often come together, not only on the same album but, indeed, in the same artist.

It's probably the first of these that you notice first - the way Kate Miller-Heidke's voice seems to slide and slither so effortlessly across her vocal range, jumping strange, random intervals as if that's the way music has always been sung, and floating easily and gracefully onto notes that, if they were any higher, would only be able to be heard by dogs.

The song themselves are clever and quirky, with rhythms stumbling along in a kind-of-clumsy, kind-of-cute, way as in the album's opening 'The One Thing I Know', or in the deceptively innocent, but ultimately poignant, narrative of 'Caught in the Crowd', where the music seems to go along with the words as easily as the song's protagonist goes along with her bullying peers. In 'The Last Day on Earth', Kate's voice seems to jump a couple of octaves, swooping into the clouds, just for a note here and there at the end of a phrase, creating for you the dream-like, whimsical world she is telling you about, where old love is re-kindled while everything else ends. A youthful disdain for the hippy, revolutionary 60s comes to you via a delightfully laid-back rhythm and a defiantly jolly, jaunty melody in 'Politics in Space'.

The stories told in these songs, with their slightly nostalgic or sad or even bitter words set to jaunty, bouncy, idiosyncratic melodies, come across with a good-humoured tongue in their cheek, as if they are always laughing at themselves just a little; and it's perhaps this side of Curiouser that makes the album so easy to like.

Curiouser somehow finds a balance between depth and lightness in songs that make you want to smile and dance, and yet they always leave you thinking that they are perhaps telling you something about yourself - about your broken dreams, your deceptions, your insecurities - that you prefer to keep hidden. The honesty of Kate Miller-Heidke's singing allows you to confront it all if you want to, while its sunny beauty allows you to just keep on dancing if you don't.

Thanks to Fiona for the recommendation.

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