There was sad news this week, with the death of Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan. For many of us, hers was a voice of pure pop perfection that stood comparison with the likes of Annie Lennox and Sinead O’Connor: powerful, multi-ranged, and with a crystal clarity. What’s more, like O’Connor in particular, O’Riordan never felt the need to deviate from, or minimise, her natural accent. Her voice was not only beautiful, it was beautiful in an overtly Irish way.
Which got me thinking about Australian music, and the women whose voices come to mind when I think of that peculiarly Aussie way of speaking, and delivering lyrics. Here, then, are five Australian women’s pop voices that speak to me in the way the O’Riordan’s Irish lilt does.
5 for Friday: Aussie Pop Women
I’ve spoken before about my feelings towards Chrissie Amphlett. It’s no understattment to say I think she was the pre-eminent female rock voice in Australian music history. Nobody put it all together like she did: in my obituary I called her a snarling, preening, sneering buzzsaw-voiced sex goddess prowling the stage, likely to explode at a moment’s notice, and that evaluation hasn’t tempered one little bit.
She was unique, and brilliant, and irreplaceable.
I first came across Montaigne when she guested on The Hilltop Hoods’ superb 1955. Shortly after, she released her debut solo album, Glorious Heights. This song was the first single from it. She’s a stunning blend of clarity and sheer power, and the best possible advert for the independence of the State-sponsored alternative music station JJJ: I only found out in making sure I had dates right for this post that she was a graduate of the station’s Unearthed High program back in 2012. If there’s a better use of national arts dollars than discovering and bringing to prominence talent like this, I’m all ears.
Barnett seems to be a bit of a Marmite performer: people seem to either love her laid-back, semi-spoken delivery, or they hate it. I’m on the love side. There’s a deeply Aussie feel to her laconic delivery, and the wry details she highlights in order to tell her mini-narratives, and that flattened East coast accent sounds like nobody else in the industry right now. Her debut album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit spawned a series of songs that I hoovered up for my playlist, and charted in something like a hundred million billion trillion countries worldwide. Assuming she can stay true to her style, I’m hoping she’ll be around for a while. This is my favourite song from the album: listen to her description of the woman in the elevator to get a perfect slice of her observational style.
When I was in my early teens, rock and roll was for dancing, head-banging, boy-meets-girling, and not much else. Then Do-Re-Mi released Man Overboard, and I grew up on the spot. Social commentary was suddenly something I wanted to know about, and the fact that this strong, strident, unwavering female voice was belting out such lyrics woke me up to a world of feminist thinking beyond my Joan Jett boycrush. Conway’s been close to my heart ever since.
This is my favourite Conway song, from her insanely good album Bitch Epic. It’s articulate, darkly acerbic, and perfect.
I came to Australia from England when I was a week past my 5th birthday. Despite living in Australia for 42 years, and having been a citizen since 1981, I’ve never managed to entirely lose my original accent: the more excited I get, the more it emerges. It’s enough for me to still be branded a pom by the occasional ignorant, and no matter how long I live here, it’s something that will always be wielded at me when someone wants to insult me.
Lisa Mitchell came to Australia when she was three. Despite that, she shares my accentual melange: there’s the merest whisper of her original accent in the breathy, pixie-like delivery of her debut album, Wonder, recorded when she was only 19 years old. It’s an utter delight, filled with whimsical instrument choices and gossamer-like orchestrations, and while she’s since departed this sound for a more straightforward, dance-oriented synth-based approach, I’m still entranced by this first offering.