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Kate Miller-Heidke

Liberty Bell

(Sony; US: 11 Oct 2011; UK: Import)

One could read (okay, purposely misread) Brisbane-born Kate Miller-Heike’s Liberty Bell album as a song cycle about a girl who seeks freedom and adventure and ends up dying in a terrible plane wreck before she can act. After all, the first track is, “Are You Ready“ and last one is “The Plane Is Down”. In between, the narrator seeks relief from boredom and plans a trip to Spain where things are better.

Of course, to see the record in this way one has to ignore the nonsensical cuts, such as “Liberty Bell” and “Devil’s in the Details”. These are propulsive dance tracks in which the singer does her best to rhythmically repeat the songs’ titles as frequently as possible. One could see these as conveying metaphorical truths. “Liberty Bell” is about personal independence and “Devil’s in the Details” concerns going bad. But this would be a stretch. The phrase “devil’s in the details” seems more likely to be used because of its hard consonant sounds and double syllables at both end than for any other reason. No doubt, if there were a two-syllabic hard consonant construction for the word god, the word would serve the song’s purpose equally as well.

Providing the album with a framework deepens the meanings of the material contained. The lyrics can go from straight (“the calories abound so eat up eat up”) to strange (“l am going to get eyes tattooed on my eyelid”) to surreal (“Put hooves underneath my feet so I can feel the beat”) all in the same song, in this case the bouncy, “Fatty Gets a Stylist”. The hallucinatory imagery of this song suggests a dream. Perhaps the singer is dozing during the jet trip. However one interprets the song seems irrelevant to the pleasures of just hearing silly words skillfully sung to a deep and infectious groove.

That’s really the case for each individual song here. Each is meant to be fun. They all have phat beats to make the body move. The one slow tune, “Let Me Fade”, is the album’s worst. To a solo piano accompaniment, the narrator sings of being alone in a conventional manner and over-emotes. Woe is me. While this provides a contrast to the other material, there is no other reason for the song to exist here.

It’s the fast cuts with dance beats where Miller-Heidke shines most. Her voice seems to smile at the listener, whether she’s warning about “The Flasher” or complaining about the street people in “Holloway Park”. This adds a dynamic layer to what goes on in the songs, as the instruments purposely go out of tune or miss a rhythm to get the listener’s attention and accent points. The voice keeps everything wrapped tight, so there’s nothing to worry about even if there is something to worry about.

Like on the final cut, in which the singer triumphantly sings to an almost martial beat about facing death with her eyes wide open. This should be a dirge, but Miller-Heidke’s singing keeps one’s hopes alive. Hmm…a plane crashing into a mountain. She should be dead, but there is a chance. Nope, she dies. Oh well, let’s dance.


Steven Horowitz has a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Iowa, where he continues to teach a three-credit online course on "Rock and Roll in America". He has written for many different popular and academic publications including American Music, Paste and the Icon. Horowitz is a firm believer in Paul Goodman's neofunctional perspective on culture and that Sam Cooke was right, a change is gonna come.

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