With The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle, Australian singer/songwriter Missy Higgins joins a long line of musical artists who decided to drop out of music but apparently couldn’t stay away. Speaking for myself—I’m glad she’s back.
Actually, the album’s title is a bit of a puzzlement, since it sort of connotes showmanship and “jazz hands,” and Higgins reputation as an artist seems built more upon mellow, subtle understatement—and she continues in that vein on this album. But that’s not to say the record lacks interest—far from it. It’s just that Higgins’ appeal isn’t in showy performance numbers, but in her smooth, liquid voice, singable melodies and insightful lyricism. And make no mistake—The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle has all of these in spades.
Indeed, the five years since On a Clear Night seem to have done Missy Higgins a world of good. It’s a bit hard to describe, but it seems that all the intangibles that made that record so appealing are here on the new record—and more besides. While Missy Higgins has always displayed artistic maturity beyond her years, The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle shows us an even more mature version of the artist. The production value is taken up a notch or two, and the arrangements on these songs are expanded a bit beyond the basic piano/guitar driven sounds of her earlier work, with more diverse instrumentation and more liberal use of BGVs and layered vocal parts. Some might decry this as too “poppy”; I just find it adds more interest to an already compelling musician.
But as one might expect from Missy Higgins, the strongest feature of this album is the songwriting itself. While Higgins penned several of the tunes on her own (most notably the last four, more reflective songs), she collaborated with other talented writers on the rest, including fellow Aussie singer/songwriter Butterfly Boucher (who also co-produced the record), film director Amiel Courtin-Wilson (who co-wrote “Watering Hole”), and Colorado-based singer/songwriter Katie Herzig (“Tricks”). The resulting track list is a near-flawless and diverse collection of memorable melodies coupled with Higgins’ signature honesty and emotion.
It says something of an artist when she can carve a clear path for herself in the frequently bland MOR/adult contemporary pop category—and it says even more when that artist garners such critical acclaim and attention from only three albums released over an 8-year period. The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle may have a confusing title, but it reveals a solid musical artist who has so much substance that she simply doesn’t need a lot of “dazzle.” Missy Higgins has shown us once again that as a singer/songwriter, she is a force to be reckoned with.
ALBUM RATING: 4.5 Stars (out of five)