It's been 4 years since Australian pop singer Natalie Imbruglia released her last album, Counting Down the Days. That album boasted one major hit--"Shiver"--but unfortunately faltered after that, and "Glorious," the single from her 2007 greatest hits set, also was not a major hit. Then she divorced in 2008. Things were definitely looking down for the singer, who 12 years ago conquered the world with her first single, "Torn."
Thankfully, things are looking up on Come to Life, her engaging fourth album, which takes a new direction from her previous work. Where Counting Down the Days was mostly warm and sounded calculated to appeal to the masses (and radio), Come to Life is more experimental and darker.
If it's the case that CDs and digital media have destroyed the ability to divide albums into 2 parts (since you no longer have to turn them over), Come to Life is argument for preserving that ability, for the album divides rather neatly into two programs--the first half being more acoustic and traditional Imbruglia territory, and the second being more electronic and experimental.
The first half also features two tracks written by Coldplay, both of which are apparently leftovers from earlier albums. "Lukas" is even produced by Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends producer Brian Eno, and its clear musically that's where this song originated. "Fun" is their other track, produced by Ken Nelson, who worked with Coldplay on their first three albums. Of the two, "Lukas" is superior, bright and broadly scored like so much of Viva La Vida, it pulses with a warm piano and guitar melody. "Fun" is good too though, quieter and emotional, as the singer reflects on a failed relationship ("I know it hurts like hell when you can't be with someone").
"My God," although it's not one of the Coldplay tracks, reminds me of their "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face," as it has a similar insistent guitar and drum rhythm. Its' a real rocker of an opening track. "Twenty" has a lot of power behind it too, while "Scars" is old-school Natalie guitar-based pop.
"Want" kicks off the rougher and more experimental second half. It's a remarkable song, dark and driven, with lush strings and an insistent, robotic beat. The song is based on Imbruglia's "Be With You," a track from her greatest hits collection, going as far as recycling that song's beat and using its first verse in the middle section. It's meaning is quite different though--whereas earnest "Be With You" finds the singer pining that she can't be without some guy ("I don't want to live if I don't want to be with you"), "Want" is a sarcastic kiss-off, and given the recent divorce, probably quite personal ("I hope you get all that you want, 'cause I didn't").
"WYUT," which stands for "what you up to," is another charging song, this time driven by the unusual coupling of a prominent bass beat and acoustic guitar, with the later addition of synths. "Cameo," a '80s throwback, also has a surprising edge, dominanted by synths and processed guitar. "All the Roses" is a lovely ballad, with piano and milky synth chords. "Wild About It" closes the album on another strong note, its plucky rhythm underpinning a rousing sing-along melody.
This is a really great album. So why isn't it a bigger deal? What's with the soft release in the UK? The album arrived "digital only" with barely a whimper--no major British music outlets have reviewed it yet--with a physical release supposedly on the way early next year. I hope it gets a fair chance.
Best: Want, Lukas, Fun, Wild About It, My God