Missy Higgins – On a Clear Night
I don’t know what I’ve done. Or if I like what I’ve begun.
Those are the first lines that greet your ears on Missy Higgins’ second album On a Clear Night. And already, I like what’s begun. I love these lyrics. I love these songs. I love this album.
Where I Stood is written in Missy’s classic style drawing at all your heartstrings. There’s been discussion as to whether the story that’s being told is that of a relationship that’s broken up, or if it’s a bit more complex and is actually about giving a child up for adoption. Lyrics such as “She will love you more than I could/She who dares to stand where I stood” leave it entirely up to your own interpretation. It’s the ambiguity in Missy’s craftsmanship that I love. Her songs rarely tell a straight forward story. There are always lines that mean different things to different listeners – making each song even more personal.
Missy gets her guitar out in 100 Round the Bends. It’s upbeat for Missy. I’m struggling to find a remotely depressing lyric in it. Admittedly, it’s pretty clear that Missy was, perhaps, in a better place when she wrote this album. Songs like this would never have fitted in on her debut album. It’s just too… happy. Yes, the lyrics progress to sing about how this great relationship failed and hence the happiness ends. But the chorus returns once more; the guitar kicks in and all negativity is forgotten.
I have to admit that when I first heard Steer I wasn’t entirely convinced. It was the first single off the album and I had a few versions of it on my iTunes, so it kept replaying itself. I was so excited to hear new songs from Missy that I listened to it a lot in a short space of time and the novelty soon wore thin. It didn’t astound me lyrically and so, for about a year after its release, I often found myself skipping past it on my iPod. Nowadays, I’ve rediscovered it for the great song it really is and could happily listen to it on repeat.
Sugarcane. The most beautiful song I’ve ever heard. Wow. I love every second of it. It’s the most played song on my iTunes and I can’t ever see myself getting bored of it. The lyrics are beautifully crafted to haunt you. The first verse is about abuse of a young girl. The second about an older girl in a peepshow who dances behind a one-way mirror to try and convince herself that people aren’t watching. If only the young girl had the ability to do the same. But she doesn’t. And so she must “Run. Run fast. Sugarcane”. This is, of course, just my interpretation. And as I’ve said, you can find a thousand different meanings from each song of Missy’s. If I remember correctly, it was inspired by a photo a ballerina with a ghostly figure behind it, hence the song beginning with the metaphor of the ‘Baby Ballerinas hiding somewhere in the corner”. I can’t tell you enough how beautiful this song is. If you take anything from this review, or even this whole blog. It should be to have a listen of this song. Don’t just casually listen to it though. You need to focus on the lyrics and the vocals alike to soak up everything you can from this work of beauty.
I like the verses in Secret. The chorus has never been so appealing, but the vocal ability of Missy allows me to forget about that. It was written about a relationship that the speaker wants to be open about, whilst the other party wants it to remain as… well, as a secret. Clearly this relationship isn’t going to work out so well. Cue long contemplative lyrics from Higgins.
Perhaps the best vocal performance on the album comes on Warm Whispers. This album version doesn’t display the true capacity of Missy’s voice but this YouTube clip does it a lot more justice. The length that she can hold a note for amazes me. As do the metaphors in this song. I mean, she’s weeping “warm honey and milk”. Who else weeps warm honey and milk? Nobody I know of.
Missy can play the piano amazingly. But that doesn’t mean she’s at all bad at guitar playing either. As shown in The Wrong Girl where she casually strums away as she sings. Angela, a song inspired by a black and white photo Missy once saw in a hotel she was staying in, is also played on guitar. Missy is way too musically talented for my liking. She makes my one song that I can play on the piano (The First Noel – perfect for all occasions) look entirely worthless. Which I guess isn’t that hard. But well, she’s just all round musically talented.
The big break-up song of the album is Peachy. Each verse passes the blame around as to whose fault the break up is, with the chorus referring to how the ex says that life is ‘Peachy’ without her. It’s a great sing-along track; you can scream your heart out in the chorus and briefly regain your breath in the verses before breaking out into passionate song once more when the chorus returns.
The majority of this album was written in Broome (a town in rural Western Australia) which allowed for Missy to focus solely on songwriting. It was one evening when she looked up at the sky and saw how beautiful it was that she came up with the album’s title. The natural beauty of the landscape where the album was written comes across in the songs that were produced. Going North sings of going to explore new opportunities elsewhere. In this case, ‘elsewhere’ is north. Whereabouts ‘North’ is, I don’t know. But I reckon it’s somewhere rather nice. Apparently ‘answers fall like leaves’ there. I’d quite like that. Maybe one day I’ll find somewhere like that myself.
As the album ends, the final song is rawer than all the other tracks. It was recorded in Mitchell Froom’s front room and if you listen carefully, you can hear an airplane flying by towards the end of the song. There’s no need for autotuning or adding effects to Missy’s songs. Even in their rawest forms they are beautiful. The lyrics are about a man who is, quite literally, begging for forgiveness on his knees. Without much to focus on aside from Missy’s strong vocals and the background acoustic guitar, you can really feel as though you are able to connect with this character in the song. You can genuinely feel his desperation as she sings “Take this one fallen man on his knees. Saying please forgive me”.
So that concludes my review of ‘On a Clear Night’. It’s probably my favourite album ever. I hope that you can connect with the album as I did and see past the heaviness of the lyrics to discover their true beauty.
I recently thought to myself about how I could well be the most obsessive Missy Higgins fan to have never seen her play live. Anyone agree?