Sky Mangel’s had it bad: her aunt, uncle and cousin copped it in a plane crash a couple of years ago, and she’s since lost a fiancé (her fault), a baby (temporarily, not her fault) and a potential lesbian girlfriend (scriptwriters’ fault). But that’s all pretendy, there’s no way old Steph would cash in on Neighbours‘ most popular angsty character… would she?
Brilliantly and unashamedly, she would, and Tightrope – her first LP from a five-album deal – reads like an A-to-Z of teenage girl heartache. I mean, strewth, just look at that tracklisting: So Do I Say Sorry First?, Mistake, Tightrope, You Should Have Lied. It could (and does) go on. Emotacular!
But don’t get me wrong, this is no hasty exercise in quick-buck-making: Tightrope boasts production as polished as any Ramsay Street story arc. The opening track’s power chords were definitely the work of a professional, and first single, Mistake, is pure Kelly Clarkson, so much like Since You’ve Been Gone that it’s more like she never went away in the first place, just donned a blonde wig and affected an Aussie accent.
Variety is the spice of the 11-18-year-old demographic, however, and the Avril Lavigne-esque chugging is set aside – for the verse, at least – on Tightrope’s title track. Here is something a little more Eurocentic, like Annie, and it’s nicely followed up with some (more) anguish in piano ballad You Should Have Lied (see: Evanescence).
The nod towards (or pick pocketing of) Ms Clarkson continues unabashedly thereafter, the whole affair rendered as devourable as one of Harold Bishop’s casseroles thanks to some smart songwriting and imitable singing. McIntosh’s voice, it has to be said, is surprisingly powerful, and, cannily, is given license to soar with woe on most tracks.
Like the character she portrays (or portrayed, depending where you are), Stephanie’s music shows a shrewd awareness of alternative culture, and yet remains rooted in pop sensibility. As when Sky went from black to blonde, an effort of this teeny-rocker calibre is inevitable given the soapy origins of its protagonist.
Okay, so Kylie may have set the daytime-to-playtime bar spiggin’ high, but Erinsborough has produced some utterly eclipsable acts: where is Holly Valance these days? Why did Craig McLachlan‘s pop career nosedive so dramatically after Mona?
As such, it would appear that everybody’s second-favourite Mangel has hit the ground running – comparatively speaking, at least – and that Tightrope might just establish her alongside popular music’s most tortured movers and shakers. Cop ya.