New Music Reviews

Missy Higgins’ When the Machine Starts: Art During Lockdown

Melbourne, Australia recently had a second wave COVID outbreak that put the entire city in lockdown for close to two months. People were confined to their houses with very little social connections. A cloud of death and illness hung over the city as COVID ravaged aged care homes and rapidly spread through public housing. It was a frightening time for one of the cultural epicentres of Australia. Luckily, Melbourne has come through and is now back to minimal restrictions and life returning to normal. However, COVID left its scar on the city after hundreds of deaths and extreme levels of isolation.

During this time Missy Higgins recorded the track When the Machine Starts and released it shortly after the lockdown lifted. Missy is an Australian treasure who has had years of both pop success and critical acclaim. She has the ability to move seamlessly from pop, to a singer / songwriter vibe and into folk. Just take her tracks Scar, The Special Two and a cover of an Aussie deep cut, and one of my favourite songs, Shark Fin Blues. Even though these three tracks showcase her range, they all highlight the passion in her voice. Above all else, Missy Higgins is an amazing storyteller who you feel is singing directly to you. When the Machine Starts continues that tradition with a lush pop track on the impact of COVID lockdown on one’s mental health.

The track opens with this lush wall of pop glitter as Missy showcases her talent on both keyboard and vocals. Higgins has such a smooth and beautiful vocal and this track layers it nicely on top of flashing piano and shiny vocal effects. Unlike most modern indie tracks, Missy’s vocal is way up front in the mix. It swoops in, picks you up and sails up amongst the clouds. The electro percussion adds to this track’s lush landscape and plays well against Higgins’ piano work. Musically, this track is an excellent pop track that stays with you long after your first listen.

Lyrically, Missy is able to take an overwhelming topic such as your mental health in isolation during a COVID lockdown and personalise it. Most importantly, she is able to take such a debilitating topic and imbue some hope. She sings about going through lockdown and longing / valuing human connection. During lockdown she describes how society stops and gives you space to reflect and prioritise what is truly valuable in your life. However, she wonders whether she will forget what she has learned once society’s machine is back up and running. Will she get caught up in the race and pressure of life and forget to value others? Much like how I felt coming out of lockdown, Higgins speaks to feelings of anxiety as she steps back into society and wonders what “normal life” will bring her. However, there is hope that she will continue to carry her new found sense of self out in the world. Ultimately, good or bad, she sings about how life will never be the same after COVID and we must not forget what we all have experienced.

Missy’s track When the Machine Starts marks her return to tight pop structures, which is where she truly shines. The silver lining to COVID and BLM protests is how it has inspired some amazing art from Taylor Swift, Anderson Paak, BeyoncĂ© and others. This track is no exception and I highly recommend that you give it a listen.

Listen to When the Machine Starts

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