Kate Miller-Heidke – Nightflight (Sony) CD REVIEW

YOU CAN TELL that Aussie diva Miller-Heidke is an opera singer with a pop career on the side, because she never misses a note, knows the value of drama in song, and is very fond of using that voice in various permutations – sweet and light, fulsome and fruity, overdubbed, and mostly obviously in the dramatic style forged by Kate Bush and Americanised by Tory Amos.
Don’t get me wrong: she is no popera poppet. Her songs are singer-songwriter fare, and some of them have genuine merit. But there are problems, too. She doesn’t take the style anywhere it hasn’t been before, and too often falls into a sing-song chorus mode that has become a bit of a cliché with indie female songwriters. I guess that comes from record companies looking for something melodic that might – just might – be a hit. Or perhaps it comes from the fact that songwriters these days don’t seem to see it as a compromise to dip their toes into teen-pop zones.
Because Miller-Heidke has the voice and a certain kind of pronunciation that goes with it, on occasions she’s in danger of becoming a slightly dirtier-sounding Sarah Brightman. You know what I mean.
But she’s never that boring, and by and large, it’s her lyrics that define her difference as much as her ability with vocal perambulations. She has me right on track one, ‘Ride This Feeling’, where she sings: “And for some reason I decided to take off my clothes/Then I jumped off a cliff, just spread my arms and flew.” This is quite some image.
But it’s not all like that. On the title track she sings: “And if one more person coughs on me/I’m going to punch him in the face/Not really, I’ll just hold my breath as always.” While it’s not the most perfect lyric ever, I love the fact that she often sings about things that no-one else would bother with, and can express herself in a way that is both quirky and real.
The album gets better as it goes on, and peaks with ‘Humiliation’, which eschews the more mundane conventions for a spare electronic sound with plenty of percussion. And she gives herself the opportunity to show off her opera chops, inevitably coming across as a less demonic Nina Hagen. At least it’s a hint of what she could be doing if she were to give herself wings.
‘In The Dark’, too, is a rather gorgeous song where things are once again stripped back to just acoustic guitar, violin and some reticent echoed piano. The last song, a bleak but not bleakly-rendered song of death, ‘Fire & Iron’, is also rather great.
She might not have the hip factor of our girl from the ‘Tron, Kimbra, but who cares?
Sadly, somewhere in the engineering or mastering, much of the dynamic range and bottom end has disappeared. I assume it’s been mixed for an iPod-friendly consumer who doesn’t care about such things, or who already has the bass boost setting at maximum. Pity, because it’s a record that would benefit immensely from a superior sonic exposition. GARY STEEL
Music = 3.5/5
Sound = 2.5/5

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