Today I saw Andrew Bolt at the Sydney Opera House as part of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas.
He said a lot of things that I found repulsive. He argued that formal events shouldn’t begin with an acknowledgement of country; that the science on climate change wasn’t settled; and that people shouldn’t be defamed for denying the Holocaust unless they could proved to be ‘wrong’. Lots of people applauded him for saying these things. At the end, a young man told Bolt he loved him. Bolt lapped it up.
But Bolt also said something that I found fundamentally true. He argued that people are entitled to say whatever they want, and that nobody should be silenced.
He’s right. Andrew Bolt can say whatever he wants. But although free speech means you can broach any topic, it doesn’t mean that everyone has to listen to you, or that they have to take you seriously. I attended Bolt’s talk today. I heard what he had to say. But that doesn’t mean I have to write about his beliefs, or give them a platform, or even engage with them as though they were anything but the ramblings of a sad, deluded madman scared that his racist, bigoted world is crumbling. So I’m not going to. Instead, I am going to write about an issue close to my heart: the unappreciated career of Robert ‘Millsy’ Mills, an unfairly maligned Australian hero.
Within the last few years, Australians have finally begun to appreciate the pop hits of ages past, and the tunes that once caused us considerable cringe have now been embraced. However, though that sense of acceptance has been enthusiastic, it has not been widespread, and Mills is a clear legend from our past waiting to be championed.
Mills needs no introduction, but I’ll give him one anyway: he placed fifth in Australian Idol‘s first season, and his beautiful, angelic (pun intended) take on Robbie Williams’ ‘Angels’ was very well received. But despite his breathy yet powerful voice, and his immaculate musical phrasing, he has experienced no great career revival – certainly not the kind that could rival the surge of success that his contemporaries Shannon Noll and Guy Sebastian are currently riding all the way to the bitter end.
And yet in purely objective terms, Mills is a far greater asset to Australia’s musical history than either of those two. Yes, Mills might have placed fifth in the competition, but as we all know, such ranking does not reflect in any way on his his skills as a writer and a performer, and Mills’ first solo album Up All Night is a collection of straight bangers; a jumble of pop hooks and powerful, anthemic choruses that, quite frankly, makes Noll and Sebastian’s offerings shrivel up in comparison.
Just take ‘Overrated’, a catchy song replete with nods to Mills’ own stardom. The title itself is a jab at Mills’ television exposure; a kind of doff of the cap to his haters and a nifty move that predates Beyonce selling ‘BOYCOTT BEYONCE’ t-shirts by over a decade. Millsy is that then, a keenly intelligent writer, and a performer ready to navigate the murky waters of semi-stardom with both wit and a self-reflexive sense of humour.
But Up All Night is not a one-hit album, and though ‘Overrated’ is one of its highlights, there is plenty more to be enjoyed on the record. ‘Ms. Vanity’ isn’t just a catchy song tethered to one of the most celebratory choruses in Australian pop history, it’s also an emotional paean aimed directly towards its listener. In that way, it’s a kind of aside from Mills to his fans; a rare case of a pop singer speaking to his audience without pretension or with an artificial sense of distance. Mills isn’t lecturing from a podium, he is talking to us from our own level, encouraging us to abandon the song’s titular two-faced Ms. Vanity with a passion that is truly compelling.
Yes, this much is clear: Mills is a performer long overdue a career revival. Though he has enjoyed some success as a television host, he has yet to be elevated to the legendary status that he deserves. Of course, ultimately, rectifying such a situation is the responsibility of us, the Australian public at large. It is our job to abandon our post-ironic obsession with Shannon Noll and Guy Sebastian, and instead direct our attention towards a legend – nay, a poet – of Australian industry, and a man who deserves more praise than we have perhaps ever afforded him.
Robert Mills’ Up All Night is out through BMG. For more information, visit Mills’ website, here. He is also a current cast member in the musical Ghost: for more information on his role in that production, head to their website.