If you follow the blog, you know I’m an old man that connects with the joy of music. That’s why the Australian trio Middle Kids’ album, “Today We’re the Greatest,” is such a big change. It’s the combination of the production, lyrics, and Hannah Joy’s voice that made this album the exception and my favorite of 2021.
Let’s start with Hannah Joy’s voice. To me, it’s unimportant what other singers an artist may sound like. What is important are those moments when they remind the listener of other singers that have left a lasting impression on your psyche. Joy has moments when her vocals lift the song and brings back memories of Dolores O'Riordan for me. She can also convey sadness in a manner I’ve always associated with singers like Michael Stipe. She has developed a rare talent here and I look forward to seeing how she evolves as a songwriter and vocalist.
The album opens with the painful yet lovely “Bad Neighbors.” The songwriting of Tim Fitz along with Joy’s laid-back moving vocals set the tone for the album. This is very different from the band’s straight-ahead indie-rock album, “Lost Friends.” This is an album that feels like it centers on Joy’s voice and the emotions it conveys.
My favorite track is “Cellophane (Brain). Joy’s lyrics, vocals, and emotions burst through on this song. The song appears to explore how we see ourselves and deal with things we do to get through life. The bridge is a bit damning; “You think you’re a black umbrella holding off the rain. I think you’re a silk white kite blowing off course again.” The song is eerie, and the meaning of the lyrics lay just beyond my grasp.
The album’s first bop is “R U 4 Me?” It’s the album’s most streamed cut. But don’t let the tune’s bounce throw you. The theme hasn’t changed. Lyrics like “My friends and family, we're all in therapy” and “I feel so far from the people who are nearest” establish a theme of trust that is also central to the following two tracks Questions” and “Lost in Los Angeles.”
“Golden Star” is a quite lovely ray of light on this album. Completely unexpected and sweet. It perfectly sets up the two songs, “Summer Hill” and “Some People Stay in Our Hearts Forever” about broken relationships.
Songs like “Run with You” are why I started this blog. It’s that gem hidden in an album that everyone should hear. It should be everywhere. It’s an anchor on my primary playlist. It’s all about the hook that sticks, and you walk around the rest of the day playing it over and over in the back of your mind.
The album closes with the track “Today We’re the Greatest.” The song interestingly strikes me as a melancholy anthem. With lyrics like “I notice a lot, the world is a silent place where talking never stops” and “Someday we’ll be gone, but today we’re the greatest even though we feel so small” the sense of isolation is as unavoidable as every generation’s moment of ascendence.
There are so many reasons to love this album. Even the cover, a black and white still of Hannah Joy with an array of different patterns or sliced-up pictures streaming from her eyes, signifies that the experience will encompass many ideas and emotions. This is one of those albums you listen to in one sitting and in order. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.