Unabashed pop, but pop in the old-fashioned sense of smartly-constructed, brightly produced, knowledgeably melodic music, sung by actual voices, rather than what pop has at least temporarily become on 21st-century Top 40 radio. With its classic chord progression, well-timed instrumental variation, and quick-witted lyrical salvos,”The Tiger Inside Will Eat the Child” is artfully designed for heavy rotation on radio stations that don’t exist.
That seems to be Kate Miller-Heidke’s niche, in fact. Her 2008 album Curiouser (not released in the U.S. until 2010) landed her likewise in a North American netherworld of being too pop for indie and too indie for pop—an album full of crisp, smart, entertaining nuggets of catchy-quirky goodness. In her native Australia, it went all the way up to number two on the album chart, but here it pretty much disappeared without a trace.
This time around, Miller-Heidke, working as always with husband/guitarist/collaborator Keir Nuttall, has veered into beat-heavy, electro-pop territory—a different-enough offering that in Australia this was released as a “side project” entitled Fatty Gets a Stylist. Here in the U.S. it’s being marketed as a Kate Miller-Heidke album called Liberty Bell, even though Nuttall is heard singing in the foreground more than previously. Miller-Heidke herself has adopted a more clipped, less idiosyncratic singing style than she’s used in the past. A conservatory-trained singer, she let her voice swoop and quaver most charmingly on Curiouser, when the song called for it. This time, she pretty much reigns that in, except maybe a bit in the album’s lead track, the ear-wormy “Are You Ready,” which New York residents may recognize from a widely seen commercial for the state lottery. (The commercial strikes me as a stretch, and successful largely because of the song itself, so for the curious, I offer up KMH’s official video rather than the ad; see below.) “Tiger Inside” isn’t as electro-poppy as some of the album’s other songs; there’s actually a nice assortment of guitar sounds to be had here. But also lots of electronic hand claps.