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|Missy Higgins - The Ol' Razzle Dazzle Album Review|
|04-08-2012 13:32 | 0 comment(s)|
| How should we take that album title? Maybe as a reflection of those brassy vocal turns Missy Higgins has in her singer-songwriter toolkit? Or, more likely, her return to showbiz after deciding to quit music following her 2007 second album On A Clear Night and its U.S. gold single, the Sarah McLachlan-esque 'Where I Stood'? Or, in light of her battles with depression, something more ironic? Whatever way, The Ol' Razzle Dazzle isn't some self-conscious meditation on the vagaries of success in the entertainment industry. No, these dozen songs are intimate relationship studies with easy choruses, confirming Higgins' sweet spot between commercially friendly broadness and striking personal investment.
She makes it look simple, that balance. But thousands of bland, leaden albums have failed to secure the instant snap and ignition Higgins nails here. Made in Nashville with producers Brad Jones and Butterfly Boucher, this is an album of deliberate singles and co-writes that also happens to cut to the bone in that earnest but undeniable way that well-equipped mainstream songwriters can.
If her time away from things did inform these songs, it's in how Higgins uses music itself as a reference point in the lyrics. The spirited opener 'Set Me On Fire' is partly an ode to melody that falls in line with Sally Seltmann's 'Harmony to my Heartbeat', while 'All in My Head' muses on "the sound of a single note ringing out" as the cue for a lover's feared departure. And later, the closing 'Sweet Arms of a Tune' is about finding solace in music when that's all that's available.
Of the co-writes, lead single 'Unashamed Desire' is a darkly anthemic Boucher collaboration that dresses its emotional core in carefully plotted arrangements. Leaning on middle-of-the-road alt-rockers of yore, Higgins enlists Better Than Ezra's Kevin Griffin for the catchy but disposable 'Hello Hello' and Semisonic's Dan Wilson (Adele, Weezer) for the effectively spare 'Everyone's Waiting'.
With lyrics co-penned by film director Amiel Courtin-Wilson (Bastardy, Ben Lee: 'Catch My Disease'), 'Watering Hole' inhabits the homegrown blues tradition but doesn't entirely work; it comes off hollow. On the other hand? 'Tricks', written with U.S. singer-songwriter Katie Herzig, is a total dream single that could very much be pitched as a country crossover. It's so effortless and yet determined in a teeth-gritted way, while still allowing for a country drawl in the chorus.
It's telling to learn which songs Higgins wrote alone. The most extroverted is 'Temporary Love', just like the kind of surging '80s hits Bonnie Tyler used to come up with. (Think 'Holding Out for a Hero'). Even that, though, has a boutique flair to its strings and other instrumental embellishment.
The Ol' Razzle Dazzle finishes with four downbeat, Higgins-only songs in a row. After the mandolin-licked ballad 'If I'm Honest' and the torch-y 'Cooling of the Embers', the more engaged 'Hidden Ones' fits bleak imagery ("Watch as the lion eats the clown") to Higgins' bottomless topic of heartache. Then comes the aforementioned 'Sweet Arms of a Tune', sealing the album's back third as a quiet and reflective contrast to the more grand and anthemic tracks before it.
It's almost like, now that Higgins has returned to the fold, she's made up her mind to have it both ways. To throw herself behind the punchy singles and collaborations, sure, but also to carve out space for those stark confessionals.
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