Album Review: Missy Higgins – Oz

Published On September 27, 2014 | By Helena Ho | Albums, Music

Missy Higgins is best known for delivering emotive lyrics on a piano. Thanks to her spectacular musicality, the Melbourne native’s last three albums have all gone to number one. Judging by the success of her original singles, it seems a little strange to release a cover album as her fourth studio album. But Oz isn’t the result of an artist who has run out of original material. Rather, it’s an ode to her country, her culture, and the music that’s inspired her along the way. And she’s put her own twist on things, so to speak.

MissyHigginsOzDoing a cover album is a risky move – it basically invites the audience to compare each song to the original. But what Higgins has done is transform each track based on her own musical style, so that it is worthy to be critiqued as a new song altogether. Listening to You Only Hide, it’s clear that this rendition sounds nothing like Something For Kate. That’s the point – after all, this is Higgins’ album and her take on things. We’re introduced to grumbling piano chords before her quiet yet clear voice is heard. Ethereal strings harmonise in the background while a chorus of background singers join the verse, giving the whole track a churchy feel. It’s haunting yet serene, and the lack of instrumental only enhances this.

True to Higgins’ style, there are a lot of sombre ballads that heavily feature the piano. The album’s first single, The Drones’ Shark Fin Blues, begins with simple piano chords so that the bare beauty of Higgins’ vocals are highlighted. She sings with such passion and emotion, you can hear her voice tremble with it. It’s liberating when the strings and piano eventually swell together for the final hook. Likewise, her cover of The Divinyls’ Back To The Wall is equally intense. We hear rumbling drums that build up to an epic chorus, flanked by sky-scraping strings that send the track into a flourish. However, her take on Icehouse’s Don’t Believe Anymore doesn’t quite cut it. The studio beats ruin the authentic mood of the track, distracting us from Higgins’ emotion and drive. Minus the computerised snare, the track would’ve fared better as a haunting acoustic cover.

At the other end of the spectrum, Higgins also has a bit of lighthearted fun in Perry Keyes’ NYE. She strips the track down to just bass guitar, cheery chords and the occasional bell. It’s also a track where she shows off vocally; she completely lets go, playing with her volume and adding a few embellishments along the way. It’s familiar and jolly stories of family holidays that we can all relate to, and the end result is a carefree, foot-tapping rouser. On Slim Dusty’s The Biggest Disappointment, she enlists the help of fellow Aussie Dan Sultan to create a rather interesting interpretation. The quality of the track resembles an old radio or sound recording – this gives off an old fashioned and timely feel. Anybody feeling like an outcast will relate to this one, but it’s not exactly a sad song; this is more of a nonchalant, hopeless acceptance, and the ukelele makes it all rather lighthearted. And what Aussie cover album is complete without a bit of Kylie thrown into the mix? Confide In Me is surprisingly sexy, thanks to the tango beat of the strings. Higgins freely plays around with the original melody, freely exploring her vocal range and musicality. It’s certainly not pop diva – but it’s sultry in its own right.

Higgins has taken a bunch of well-loved songs and put her own musical spin on it, yielding original-sounding results. Artists tend to experiment with their sound at some point in their careers, and she has done just that with her fourth album. Some people may or may not accept that, but ultimately, Oz is a tribute to some of the country’s greatest music artists.

4 / 5 stars     

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