Album Review: Kate Miller-Heidke, “Nightflight” (2012)

Before I moved to Australia, and my boyfriend and I were doing the whole long distance thing, one of the ways we tried to connect from afar was by sending each other music.   We sent each other mixtapes all the time, but between mixtapes, my boyfriend sent me whole albums of some of his favourite Australian artists.   One of the CDs he sent me was from Australian singer-songwriter, Kate Miller-Heidke.

Miller-Heidke has been releasing music in Australia since 2007, though 2012 saw the release of her third studio album, Nightflight.  Classically trained Miller-Heidke manages to inject some of her opera roots (mainly in terms of her strong soprano vocals) into catchy pop/rock songs, with thoughtful, well-written lyrics (co-written by Miller-Heidke and her husband, Keir Nuttall), and the result is a delightfully unique album that I listened to on repeat for most of 2012.

The album begins with piano-based rock song, Ride This Feeling.  We’re instantly introduced to Miller-Heidke’s vocals; soft, yet strong, and at all times absolutely alluring.  The bouncy melody and upbeat feeling of the song provide a great starting point for the album.

Sarah follows and is one of the first standouts on the album.  The whimsical chimes and quiet piano work well to tell the eerie true story of a friend turning up missing after she and Miller-Heidke attended a concert as teenagers (“I turned around to Sarah/Couldn’t see her anywhere/As safe as safe can be/Oh Sarah, I didn’t mean to let you down/But you left me on my own, Sarah/Why didn’t you scream?”).  More interesting than the lyrics, however, is Miller-Heidke’s delivery; her operatic vocals are striking and lovely, playing perfectly along with the dramatic drums pounding in the background.  The song is absolutely beautiful, and was easily one of my favourite songs last year.

At first listen, title track, Nightflight, seems like nothing more than a pretty ballad, thanks to the opening tinkly piano and Miller-Heidke’s floaty vocals, but the sarcastic lyrics about travelling for a long distance relationship (“I am 35 hours and three bad movies away/And if one person coughs on me/I’m gonna punch them in the face/Well no, not really/I’ll just hold my breath, like always”) always make me smile, particularly on a bad day.   Meanwhile, breezy mid-tempo ballad, The Tiger Inside Will Eat The Child, sounds like something from a 90’s Lilith Fair Festival, but that’s not an entirely bad thing; Miller-Heidke’s vocals are enjoyable and the song is pretty catchy, overall.  Let Me Fade is a straightforward ballad, with little else in it besides slow piano and a mostly subdued vocal delivery.  By the bridge, however, the melody picks up and Miller-Heidke shows off some impressive vocal runs, providing a nice contrast to the slow beginning of the song.

Kate Miller-Heidke at the Brunswick Music Festival 18 March 2009

Most of the album falls into typical pop music territory.  I’ll Change Your Mind has a standard pop beat, with guitar and upbeat drumming (even with handclaps in the background), and though the optimistic chorus (“And maybe this will be the time I change your mind/Maybe this will be the time I change your mind”) is memorable, the track sounds like standard girl rock (think of Sheryl Crow) that you’ve already heard on the radio for years.  Beautiful Darling definitely features a more interesting sound, but despite the song being a great showcase for Miller-Heidke’s vocal skills, the track lacks anything else to make it more interesting.  In The Dark is a slow, subdued ballad that honestly drags on for far too long.  Even Miller-Heidke’s vocals don’t go much of anywhere, which is surprising with the amount of vocal styling she’s done so far on the album.

The best songs on the album are really the ones where Miller-Heidke mixes her influences, rather than just trying to tackle one genre of music.  Humiliation sounds like something you might hear on an Imogen Heap album, with its light, atmospheric sound and sparkly synth line, but electric guitar and heavy drums give the song an urgent feeling.  The Devil Wears A Suit has a definite Celtic influence, particularly in Miller-Heidke’s soprano lilt and the pan flutes heard in the backing music, and the musical break towards the middle of the song sounds perfect for some Riverdancing, if that’s your sort of thing.

The album ends on another interesting note with Your Friends Will Tell You Who You Are.  I still have mixed feelings about this song.  Though I did applaud Miller-Heidke for combining genres, I’m not sure if it works entirely well on this track.  Her operatic vocals paired with the buoyant pop melody is a bit odd, and the lyrics are just as jumbled.  The song is listenable, but it’s disappointing to think that the best adjective I can think of for this track is “listenable”, particularly when the rest of the album is so good.

Nightflight is a great album, overall.  Kate Miller-Heidke’s distinctive vocals go a long way in making the album what it is, but the songs and lyrics are also what make the album such an enjoyable one.

Rating: 200px-4_stars.svg

Track List
1. Ride This Feeling
2. Sarah
3. Nightflight
4. The Tiger Inside Will Eat The Child
5. Let Me Fade
6. I’ll Change Your Mind
7. Humiliation
8. In The Dark
9. Beautiful Darling
10. The Devil Wears A Suit
11. Fire And Iron
12. Your Friends Will Tell You Who You Are


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