[11 November 2009]
The cover to Kate Miller-Heidke’s Curiouser comes with a parcel of mixed messages: Just who is the Australian girl Kate Miller-Heidke and where does she want to land in the pop-music landscape? The portrait on the front is similar to Gwen Stefani circa-Love. Angel. Music. Baby. with the Alice in Wonderland hairdo and ticking clock in the opulent, finely prepared silver hair, but the facial make up suggests Bjork or even Sia, while the absurd eyelashes bring to mind the vapid and transparent Lady GaGa. So just who is this younger singer-songwriter? A hybrid of all said mentioned names, a chameleon that is trying to borrow various pieces of jewelry in order to complete her own chart-topping attire?
Turns out, Miller-Heidke’s sophomore outing does a couple of nifty tricks. First, it gives ample proof of why one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and secondly it gives the classically trained musician room to carve out her own niche in a pop music world that many deem diluted by the acts of Katy Perry and previous mentioned Lady GaGa. In a world that so desperately needs a legitimate heir to the crown once worn by the still functioning Cyndi Lauper, Kate Miller-Heidke might prove to be the princess ready to wear the multi-colored garbs.
Like Lauper, Miller-Heidke seems to be able to rest comfortably in a pop song while at the same time taking those clichés and making them her own. In the hands of a lesser singer, a song like “Motoscooter” (which starts out “Vroom vroom / I heard you pulling up outside and my whole body got to tingling”) would sound as mechanical as Rihanna’s “Shut Up and Drive”, but Miller-Heidke’s quirk works in her favor, and the sweetness in her voice manages to lift the song from being a silly and worn out metaphor for sexual hunger. Even more impressive is “Our Song”, which is lyrically a laundry list of clichés that the young singer somehow manages to milk emotion out of.
The same feminist spirit that dominated “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” resides over most of the album, and lends the record a needed thematic coherence. Lyrics allude to the idea of what a girl should do and be on “I Like You Better When You’re Not Around” (“Long, long ago in the year BC / The women used to gossip while they made their tea”), while “Supergirl” features the surprising line about a woman proudly buying sex toys. “God’s Gift to Women” may be the zenith of this idea (not that the title didn’t give it away). A startling put-down that fits alongside Ida Maria’s “Oh My God” (and not just because they both have the deity’s name in their titles), the punch line of the song flaunts “If you’re God’s gift to women / Then God got it wrong”, but the details of the verses are just as deadly. Miller-Heidke takes her time to list all the patriarchal images in nature and our society, which include “Peacock strut / Collar up” that works as a far greater put down than Katy Perry’s terribly executed “Ur So Gay”.
Producers Mickey Petrali and Keir Nuttall provide slick production with enough eccentricities to match the texture of Kate’s detailed and idiosyncratic narratives, resulting in some top of the line pop music. Miller-Heidke’s album cover may give rise to many worried questions, but her music speaks for itself. If radio stations and listeners are smart, they’ll embrace Miller-Heidke in the way they should have embraced Robin and Annie. Needless to say, Kate has done her part.