If every generation needs its cultish eccentric pop songbird, Aussie warbler Kate Miller-Heidke has to be This Gen’s Model. Her new release Curiouser (Sony/BMG), co-written with guitarist Keir Nuttall, has plenty of goofy vocal swoops and smart-girl attitude to go with the well-blended keyb and guitar work: lovers of this kind of wiggy songcraft will recognize traces of Lene Lovich and Kate Bush in the sound, while some of Miller-Heidke’s lyrics (“I Like You Better When You’re Not Around,” f’rinstance) come close to broaching Kirsty MacColl in the brightly snippy put-down department.
You either dig this kind of material or find yourself thoroughly irritated by its swooping affectation: me, I can’t stop playing it, though whether this onetime opera student will have the staying power of MacColl or devolve into a stuck-on-the-shelves flash like, say, Nina Hagen is an open question. What remains inarguable for now is the sheer catchiness of cuts like “Can’t Shake It,” with its ode to dance floor klutziness and “Mickey”-esque guitar line; the album’s second great piss-off track, “God’s Gift to Women” (“If you’re God’s gift to woman, than she got it wrong.”) and the folksy “Politics in Space,” which slams into the Politics of Hope with strumming acoustic work straight out of The Coca Cola Kid. “Caught in the Crowd” tackles school bullying with a ruefulness that avoids both pity or sentimentality — it’s sung from the PoV of a girl who stepped aside when one of the school misfits is targeted — though the touching track is nearly derailed by keyboarding that's almost a trace too poppy.
With a fraction of restraint (not too much, though, less she mute her distinctive voice), this pop cult Alice could produce something musically transplendent. “I’m a baby boomer’s daughter, and I’m never gonna reach Nirvana,” she sings at one point in “Space.” Ah, but you’re pretty damn close, daughter.