Freedom, reinvention and taking ownership of your life. These can be some incredibly tough concepts to effectively tackle within the confines of pop music but if you’re as supremely talented and ambitious as someone like Kate Miller-Heidke, it looks deceptively easy. Her fourth LP O Vertigo! drops this month and is yet another testament to her knack for making totally oddball arrangements sound not only palatable but dare we say it, The New Norm.
A bit of background: After 2012’s Nightflight, Miller-Heidke split with her label Sony and went at it alone, choosing to call on her doting fans to help out for album #4 in a Pledge Music campaign (NB. It’s worth mentioning that this campaign went on to raise over double its original target). Crowdfunding has proven itself to be the way of the future in 2014 – It completely cuts out any middle-man dilution with which a lot of artists struggle when “living the dream” on a label. With the slate completely clean, Kate had the freedom to make the exact record she wanted and has duly seized the opportunity with gusto.
The set opens with the defiant Offer It Up. Utilizing her vast, classically trained vocal range to form much of the instrumentation, you can tell she means it when she sings “As for the haters/They will be first against the wall”. It’s so refreshing to hear an artist like Miller-Heidke take command of her own direction and this brilliant mission statement about owning your dreams serves as a great taste-tester for a what’s to come over the remainder of O Vertigo!
This sweetly segues into Yours Was The Body, which pays homage to the darker side of the OTHER classically inclined Kate (Bush, for those of you playing at home). There are massive ‘80s drums, big piano and ominous synth beds before it seamlessly flows into the jauntier, xylophone-driven title track. It’s super fun but simultaneously carefree and wildly complex and provides yet another playground for her wealth of whimsical vocal ideas. Plus, it climaxes in a pseudo-yodel that can’t help but make you smile. After this, Michael Rosenberg makes an intimate appearance on the beautiful Share Your Air under his Passenger moniker while Rock This Baby To Sleep plumbs the rich well of New York City’s infinite inspiration for some delicate, lovelorn acceptance (“If I can’t have what I want/Dear God/Let me want what I have”).
It’s true that Kate Miller-Heidke is an astoundingly skilled and diverse vocalist, but she has such a well-rounded and honest outlook on the human experience that you often don’t notice how relatable her lyrics are until they smack you in the face. Such is the case with her spot on frustration on the left-of-center blues of Jimmy or the raw ache on What Was I To You? (“You know I’ve told you this a thousand times/Except I never pressed send/But anything would be better than to sit here and wonder/What was I to you?”). Meanwhile Sing To Me has some wonderful Fleetwood Mac flourishes before she makes the awesomely unprecedented move of getting acclaimed MC Drapht to partake in a ‘60s rock to-and-fro about diva preciousness on the appropriately named Drama.
It’s hard to imagine Sony giving an over-enthusiastic green light to a song called Lose My Shit so once again, the bold move of leaving a major label proves to be a wise one. It’d be easy to dismiss as yet another gentle breakup song but with a sincere but still conversational approach to the lyrics (“Just scale it in a bit/For f**k’s sake”). As the arpeggiated synth and languid guitar intertwine with simple electric piano and a drum machine, you can tell she has much more to offer than the usual “ouch, my heart” rhetoric of your average tale of romantic woe.
Megan Washington (who’s poised to re-enter the music industry after a couple of quiet years) brings her trademark blasé gravitas to the massive Ghost and kind of unsurprisingly, the pair work incredibly well playing off each other and the touching sparseness of closer Bliss leaves you feeling like you’ve woken up from the dream that was mentioned all the way back at the start of track one.
There are so many things to like about this record. Even if you’re a little put off by the impressive but admittedly still kinda dorky soprano gymnastics, Kate Miller-Heidke has covered such an expansive surface area of the current pop landscape on O Vertigo! that without any pandering, there’s something for everyone. Her flawless delivery and world-weathered yet unbreakable confidence shine on this collection with a vision that we may never have seen come to fruition at Sony. She took a big risk, but O Vertigo! is in itself the even bigger reward she richly deserves.