Review Summary: Too ordinary to be memorable and not catchy enough to keep listeners coming back, On a Clear Night is a good pop album that’s not interesting enough to be anything more than just that.
“Appearances can be deceiving”. An extremely cliché phrase, to be sure, but there’s obviously very good reason why. How many times have you (guys) seen the backside of a woman and assumed she was pretty – only to have her turn around and not be so? How many movie trailers promise something like a witty, laugh-out-loud comedy, only to show all the good jokes were in the trailer? And how many times has an artist put out one or two really good singles, duping perhaps millions into buying an album composed of mostly filler?
“Where I Stood” is essentially one such single. The main track off of On a Clear Night
, Australian singer-songwriter Missy Higgins’ sophomore effort, it has almost everything a good pop single should have: a great vocal performance, a catchy chorus, and a relatable message of wanting the best for a former lover. It’s good enough to fool you into thinking that the rest of On a Clear Night
will be as strong. Sadly, it isn’t.
There isn’t much to distinguish Missy Higgins from any number of singer-songwriters that have come before her, or at least not here. Higgins plays guitar and piano. She writes everything, and she has a couple backing musicians on several songs. Her Australian accent is thick enough to be heard on at least half the syllables here, but that’s the only thing separating the woman from most other female singers with a lower register voice.
Most of what you’ll hear from On a Clear Night
is Higgins and her guitar, strumming along at whatever tempo the song demands while drums (and in one instance, a male singer) provide backup. About half of the tracks – “100 Round the Bends”, “Steer”, “The Wrong Girl”, “Peachy”, and “Going North” – are up-tempo “fast” songs while the rest are “slow”. The real problem with this is that none of the slower songs manage to be interesting, simply because Higgins’ voice can’t carry a song by itself. Her delivery is too monotone and uncharismatic, the instrumentation too basic, the lyrical content too uninteresting to save such a repetitive album.
Such basic instrumentation combined with a sad lack of charm and personality helps result in another main flaw: monotony. It’s hard to really distinguish several of the songs from each other, with all the quicker songs usually based around guitar chords and the slower songs using guitar and/or piano. When Higgins gets it right, she almost nails it, but such instances only really happen on “Where I Stood”, “Peachy” and “Going North”.
I’m being a bit too harsh here, really. There are good songs to be found here, and while Higgins isn’t able to completely drive the potentially great tracks home, she also doesn’t overestimate herself by attempting a (relatively) long song (say, 5 minutes in length). The basic problem with On a Clear Night
is it’s too uninspired, dry and repetitive to be anything more than decent. More instruments, better production or even just a better knack for hooks would lift most of the tracks here from good to great. In the meantime, Missy Higgins remains in the vast ocean of artists with untapped potential. Like that blonde walking away from you, On a Clear Night
might look good at first, but once it shows its true face, you can’t help but be disappointed.
Try before you buy:
Where I Stood
100 Round the Bends