These days, it is easy to forget, through the fog of desperate and clinically average pop dirge we laughingly call the Top 40, that there once was a little, less clinical haven from where a ‘touch more than average’ individuals crept from. Who would have thought, on it’s first, tender episode, that ‘Neighbours, ’ would create not just a frizzy haired, gangling one hit wonder, an ‘all round’ nice guy with mediocre hits and a passable Joseph and a fighting spirited pop Goddess, but a sweet, smiling (and a bit of the short side ) young girl in the shape of Natalie Imbruglia.
Perhaps no one had had the slightest inkling that this pretty little actress with no real major star qualities at the time would one day, and not in the then, too distant future, become the winner six times at the Australian Music Awards (1998) as well as picking up two clumps of metal at the Brits in 1999. After only appearing in ‘Neighbours’ for 3 short years, (1991 to 1994) she somehow had managed to transform herself from geeky kid in the Close to sultry sex Goddess with an attitude and backing singers. At the same time, perhaps we should then, (as she drifted away from the mic as quickly as she came) not be surprised that her singing career, as good as it was, didn’t last any longer than five years. A feat by today’s standards when it would seem that an ‘artist’ can retire on just one top ten track.
Staying (rather sensibly) away from the dire clutches of Stock Aitken and Waterman (thankfully, this hit factory from Hell had died or at least been cast to the lions before N I came onto the scene, ) she immediately flung herself into vacant mode and with fluttering eyelashes and a pitiful expression, she leapt at us with her puppy like ‘Torn, ’ but it wasn’t long before she had taken a leaf out of Alanis Morrisette’s book and gone all man hating.
With this, her second album, ’White Lilies Island, ’ released in November 2001 (which sat comfortably at number 15 in the album chart, ) it incorporated a swamp of wistful approaches and ecstatic joys which leaks the smell of commercialism, unlike her previous album, ‘Left Of The Middle, ’ (1997) which was more cutesy and bitter bubble gum than what she gave us later on. There was a raw beauty about her first album. In comparison, ‘White Lilies Island, ’ has had it’s edges planed off, rubbed down with a damp sponge and dipped in evaporated milk.
Still showing us that she can, at least, compose, if not totally on her own (most of her song writing came from a partnership with Gary Clark) she still has given us food for thought. Perhaps the style of this album had changed too much towards the element of mind altering, slight confused and dazed lyrics which, we know, Imbruglia doesn’t need to do. The drifting, swaying tunes of ‘Wrong Impression, ’ perhaps is a ghostly presence of the dreamy days of Deacon Blue or The Beautiful South. Although her vocals are emotional enough to carry such a style of song, it seems to me that she strains her lyrics too much through such songs. The angelic approach of ‘Goodbye, ’ fits into the middle of this album with gentle ease. Her effect on minor keys is illuminating and perhaps her vocal at her best. She never needed to follow the rest of the heard by tripping out tracks that sounded just like everyone else. The early to mid Nineties saw the rise of such dreary, suicidal ballads from female artists that had wincing voices, Imbruglia stepped too dangerously close to this market on a couple of occasions.
There is a certain inward spiralling tone to the feeling of this album, and again, somewhere where I think she didn’t really need to tread. The very idea that she was this versatile was enough. I don’t think she needed to show us how morose her compositions could be. The thing that made us go out and buy her albums in the first place was such energetic, thunderous and unpredictable albums such as ‘Left Of The Middle. ’ This album to me, appears to be a defiant sway towards what she probably thought was required of her to pull through and still stay in our record collections. Even ‘Sunlight, ’ tries to make a jump back to the guitar stretched sounds of her first album, although the spark is lacking within the bars. Through the sounds of ‘Talk In Tongues, ’ we feel as if our mood will find no way of rising to the surface again. She has aged through the recording of this album in the sense that there is a maturity going on which, in the mind of an artist can be far from a bad thing, yet it was the youthfulness and dynamic qualities of this bright young thing that drew us to her originally.
Yet again in ‘Butterflies, ’ we perhaps may be disappointed when what this album probably needed was something to land on that was high and optimistic. There was a desperation throughout this album which began as the first track came to an end. ‘That Day, ’ was hopeful, lively and echoed deeply back to the days of ‘Left Of The Middle. ’ The tone of her vocal is almost flat and the melody stretched too far. It would appear that this album lies in the shadow of it’s predecessor.
We are lightened briefly through ‘Come September, ’ and the appearance of those girly backing singers a luke warm welcomed return. The drifting in of the odd string instrument has is reaching for the next album on play to be The Verve.
The whole concept of this album in undoubtedly retrospective. Not an album I suggest on listening to when; A; depressed and B; alone. It is soft, but not in any comforting sense. It is melodic but on a tempo so slow that at times it is difficult to pick out any tune. Her vocal feels strained at times and perhaps in the need of a good cough. The boppy ness of her first album has gone out for a long walk around the block and all her fears, dreads and despairs are taking centre stage. Continually lacing her songs with intricate sounds and lonely pianos’ she entwines her vocals around the songs like Ivy wrapping inside tightly around an old tree.
As a piece of inspired work, it is very appealing. After all, it did give us three top thirty singles; (‘That Day’ No. 11, ’Wrong Impression, ’ No. 10 and ’Beauty On Fire, ’ No.26. ) It does continue to carry out a significant stance that is true Natalie Imbruglia. She gave us, in her short career something to chew on while we let all the other rubbish pass us by. She delighted us with her interview bubbly charm. She is gifted and talented but needs wings to fly to her own piece of sky. I believe that it may not be the last we will see of her musically.
This album is gentle, thoughtful and soul bearing, but as music to potter around to, I’d keep ‘Left Of The Middle, ’ on standby…(if Black Lace is in the car…)
Beauty On Fire
Do You Love
Talk In Tongues
Written by Imbruglia/Clark with additions by Leonard/Wilder/Thornalley 2001 BMG entertainment (RCA) record label www.natalie-imbruglia.co.uk Virgin £10.
©Michelle Duffy 2006 (sam1942 on dooyoo and ciao)
Michelle is a freelance writer in the South of England and owner of the websites, www.generationsounds.co.uk , nevermindthebloggers.bravehost.com and their successful sister, ‘Never Mind The Bloggers’ at paperback-writer29.tripod.com . She has been writing over the two years, for five major consumer websites across the world and is one of the only two music category advisors for one website in the U. K. Her websites promote young, amateur and professional bands/artists/musicians and their fan clubs whilst also reviewing them for local and world wide promotion. She has also launched the blogs; ‘The Ramblings Of An Old Rocker, ’ ‘Bohemian Waffle, ’ ‘The Rhythm Rock And Blues Machine, ’ ‘The Moped’s Musings, ‘ ’Generation Sound Suite’ and ’Rock Cocoon. ’ She is currently working on two shops selling her music styled artwork on cafepress.com.