No matter how hard I try, I can't seem to separate Toni Collette from Muriel Heslop, the titular character from "Muriel's Wedding". It's not like Toni has been sitting on her arse since 1994. She received an Oscar nomination for "The Sixth Sense", stole the show in "Little Miss Sunshine", matched it with Nicole and Meryl in "The Hours" and played a frighteningly convincing drag queen in "Connie & Carla". And yet, Toni will always be that silly, fat mole from Porpoise Spit to me. And I mean that as a compliment. "Muriel's Wedding" is one of my favourite movies, I must have watched it at least 20 times and can quote most of the dialogue verbatim. Maybe that's why I was initially disappointed by Toni's music. I almost expected her to release an album of ABBA covers, preferably with Toni dressed as Agnetha on the cover. Instead, she delivered a sedate set of self-penned tunes, aimed squarely at people who don't fall asleep listening to Sarah Blasko.
Toni released her debut single, "Beautiful Awkward Pictures", in September last year on a small indie label. To be completely honest, if the song had not been performed by Toni Collette, I doubt I would have listened to it twice. It's not that "Beautiful Awkward Pictures" is terrible. In fact, it's evocative and quite pretty in a morose kind of way. Toni is obviously a gifted songwriter and has a fine voice. "Beautiful Awkward Pictures" is just not my cup of tea. If I want to feel depressed, I'll put on some Aimee Mann instead. At least she is consistent in her misery. The song does have a lovely video clip, which involves Toni strolling along an empty beach, and it grew on me enough to purchase Toni's debut album, also titled "Beautiful Awkward Pictures".
"Beautiful Awkward Pictures" got a few spins on my stereo - usually when I was drunk or stoned - but it never really clicked for me until I saw Toni in concert. I think I needed to see her on stage with a group of musicians to dispel the lingering thoughts of Muriel from my mind and be able to take Toni's music on its merits. Toni is a charismatic woman and hearing her perform the album live really helped me put the songs in context. One of the highlights of the album is the recently released second single, "Look Up". I much prefer "Look Up", with its literate verses, sweet chords and delicate instrumentation, to the first single. "Look Up" is an excellent pop song and deserved a higher chart placing than #61. The video is also cute. Check out Toni's killer red heels. I'm guessing she stole those from the set of "Connie & Carla"!
Toni's album is definitely a grower and she makes a welcome addition to the Australian music scene. She's not exactly in Dannii Minogue's league of fabulousness but I'd take Toni over dreary bitches like Missy Higgins and Dullta any day. I have uploaded album versions of the first two singles and one of my favourite live tracks. Give Toni's music a listen, you might be pleasantly surprised.
You can still purchase both singles and Toni's album from Sanity and Chaos or download them from iTunes. Both singles are worth purchasing for their bonus tracks, the "Beautiful Awkward Pictures" single includes an interesting song about "The Hours".