wears the trousers magazine

natalie imbruglia: come to life (2009)
October 7, 2009, 9:45 am
Filed under: album, review | Tags: , , ,


Natalie Imbruglia
Come To Life •••
Malabar / Island

Why does Natalie Imbruglia still make records? Does she enjoy writing and recording music? Does her life depend on being able to sing? Does she find music-making cathartic, a necessary form of expression in which to address difficult issues in her life? Or does she simply do it to perpetuate her celebrity? The release of Come To Life throws these questions and more into sharp relief. Before Imbruglia hit the charts with her internationally successful single ‘Torn’ she was an actress who had finished a stint on Australian soap ‘Neighbours’ and had moved to the UK in the hopes of breaking into television and film. When that didn’t happen and the money ran dry, forcing her to declare bankruptcy, she realised that the only way to international stardom lay in the path already beaten by some of her ‘Neighbours’ contemporaries: to the land of pop.

Her decent 1997 debut Left Of The Middle sold more than six million copies, but what followed was not quite the platinum-coated career everyone expected. It took four years for the follow-up White Lilies Island to arrive, and despite being critically acclaimed it wasn’t a commercial success and Imbruglia appeared to lose interest. Another five years passed before she released the moderately successful Counting Down The Days, followed in 2007 by a shoddy greatest hits collection, Glorious, that was little more than a kiss-off from SonyBMG. More than any other perhaps, that release highlighted the real problem with Imbruglia; that, despite having a rather distinctive and soulful singing voice, one gets the impression that her heart just isn’t in it. She seems like a pop dilettante, one who no longer wishes to really give away anything lyrically revealing about herself or push her music into forms outside of her comfort zone, something she attained only on White Lilies Island.

That’s not to say that Come To Life is an awful record. There are some splendid moments, but alas they are surrounded by the musical equivalent of yawns. One can imagine her in the studio, reclining on a chaise longue, Marquise de Merteuil style, fatigued and irritated that she should have to give a thought to the whole process; too many songs seem like half-hearted attempts at music making. Examples of such laziness lie in the odious lyrics from acoustic ballad ‘Scars’ – “I climb the walls, you hit the bars / I am from Venus, you are from Mars” – whose chord strums self-consciously ape those of ‘Torn’, and ‘Cameo’, an awful foray into ’80s electro-pop that’s generic to the point of redundancy and instantly forgettable. Elsewhere, the cod-rock of ‘WYUT’ borders on the unlistenable, and even ‘Twenty’, with its staccato strings and stadium-sized drums, leaves this listener somewhat cold.

The fact is, Imbruglia sounds her best here when she’s trying to imitate someone else. First single ‘Want’, one of three collaborations with Coldplay’s Chris Martin, takes its sonic cues from Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’, all relentless drums and droning bass, its lyrical and melodic impetus propelling it forward. It is by far the best song on the album, and a savvy choice for lead single. ‘Lukas’, a leftover from Coldplay’s 2008 album Viva La Vida album, pretty much rips off Suzanne Vega’s 1987 hit ‘Luka’ with a lyrical similarity that cannot be denied. Still, it’s one of the better songs here with jangling guitars and a chorus straight out of the Coldplay songbook with shimmering guitars, time signature changes and falsetto vocals intact. Likewise, ‘My God’ virtually steals the guitar riff, drums and chord progression from A Rush Of Blood To The Head‘s ‘God Put A Smile Upon Your Face’, though it does reasonably well by the association.

Chris Martin is also the sole writer of ballad ‘Fun’, and Imbruglia once again benefits from having a songwriting stalwart beef up proceedings. The song provides the perfect setting for her brittle delivery, and contrasts nicely with the rather gorgeous ‘All The Roses’, where her vocal is anything but brittle, coasting over piano and strange synth squelches and sounding like a Sarah McLachlan offcut circa Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. Even more unusually (for Imbruglia), final track ‘Wild About It’ bristles with Britpop bravado with one of the album’s most assured vocal performances, even if the chorus is a little flat. The overriding effect of all these magpie moments is that Imbruglia never quite sounds herself on the album, and even when she does the results are a little lacklustre. Despite some stellar potential hits – ‘Want’, ‘Lukas’ and ‘Fun’ – that should maintain her celebrity profile for some time yet, there’s a sense that the clock is ticking and that people may soon tire of her seemingly noncommittal attitude to music.

P. Viktor
UK release date: 08/02/10 (available digitally now); www.myspace.com/natalieimbruglia


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