Solastalgia is a neologism referencing the pain experienced when an environment is changed. As the title of the newest album by Australian singer-songwriter Missy Higgins, it has a double meaning of addressing climate change, an issue Higgins cares and writes about, and the many other dashed expectations for the future referenced throughout the album. It’s her fifth album in a career that began in 2004, during which time Higgins has had two number-one albums in Australia, built a following in the States, gotten married, and is now expecting her second child. Throughout all the plans made and changed, she has maintained a sense of responsibility for her actions because ‘the future’s watching us.’
Throughout Solastalgia, Higgins imagines possible futures and compares past visions of the future to her present. What did we know about now then? What do we know about then now? Often she is singing about an either imagined or thwarted future with a lover (“Futon Couch,” “Red Moon”), but she also explores this same future pacing with regards to the environment (“How Was I To Know,” “The Old Star”) or social change (“Be The Difference”). The contrast between past and future is brought into vivid detail on “Cemetery” where she describes a romantic night in a graveyard (‘Laying upon the dead with you, my love / I’ve never felt so alive’).
She shows particular skill in writing about climate change on “How Was I To Know,” “Starting Again,” and “Don’t Look Down.” By writing from a perspective of personal culpability and bewilderment at the impending destruction, these songs feel universal rather than preachy. Environmental destruction is also used as a metaphorical device to describe relationship turmoil on “Red Moon.”
An emotional standout on the album is “49 Candles,” in which she references the lost futures of the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting with uncommon nuance. A song about this tragedy written by someone from another country could easily feel like a diatribe about gun violence, but from Higgins, it is a heartfelt mourning for the loss of members of her community (Higgins herself is bisexual).
She has also expanded her instrumental palette beyond her previous guitar-based singer-songwriter fare to include synth bass, vocoder, and other electronics. She also stretches her vocal range from sultry depths worthy of Fiona Apple on “Strange Utopia” to popping into her head voice on “Cemetery.” Her strong Australian accent has tempered in her singing voice since her first albums, but its charm still pokes through.
Solastalgia shows growth, maturity, and perspective from an artist who has pushed herself to think critically. Apart from the upbeat “Futon Couch” and the hopeful “The Difference,” it’s a melancholy album that asks the listener to work through despair to achieve something greater. As Higgins sings on “Yesterday Must Die,” ‘Let the sadness transform you / And something new and beautiful grows / But yesterday must die / Before tomorrow can be born.’