Natalie Imbruglia shot up like a wildflower in 1997 with her engaged cover of the little known Ednaswap song "Torn," pulled from her debut Left of the Middle. Ms. Imbruglia fit right in with the other women working the alternative pop stance that was popular and crowded in the mid-to-late 1990's. Imbruglia's real voice laid ready to catch fire under the less ambitious material of her debut.
After the start of a new decade, Ms. Imbruglia finally caught that fire on her sophomore recording White Lilies Island (2002). Imbruglia's voice and songwriting now had endless, and worthy, sonic walls to bounce off of. Her third album Counting Down the Days (2005) bathed itself in romantic splendor, supported by the successful single "Shiver."
2007 saw the arrival of her hits set Glorious: The Singles '97-'07, with four new tracks rumored to be from a shelved fourth record. Those songs betrayed an interest in electronic infusion to her rock and pop, something that came to fruition on this newest endeavor. Via the indie imprint label Malabar Records, distributed by Island/Def Jam and Universal Records, Imbruglia's fourth LP Come to Life is close to brilliance.
Alongside a stellar set of talent, Imbruglia went to work on the creative collisions collected on Come to Life: Brian Eno (U2), Ben Hillier (Depeche Mode, Blur), Chris Martin (front man of Coldplay), Daniel Johns (front man of Silverchair, former husband), Gary Clark (Melanie C, Cathy Dennis, Liz Phair). "My God," "Lukas," "Fun," "Twenty," and "Scars" come from the grounded, progressive colors Imbruglia painted in on her past records. This time the edges are sharper, cleaner, but still organic. "My God" bubbles with intertwined guitar and keyboard as Imbruglia burns intensely as never before.
"Lukas" is a bittersweet take on "Our Last Summer" ABBA-esque story telling and is Imbruglia's grandest moment. "Scars," incredibly human, is a picturesque revelation: "I climbed the walls, you hit the bars, I am from Venus, you are from Mars, you got your brand new friends, and I got a broken heart. Doesn't matter who we are, everyone has their scars." "Scars" is the portrait of heartbreak for the recently divorced Imbruglia
"WYUT," "Cameo," "All the Roses," and "Wild About It" make up the second half of the album and sport Imbruglia's electro threads. "WYUT" gets too close to power pop for the demure Imbruglia, but she grabs the wheel of the song to guide it. "Cameo's" sex and salt isn't dissimilar to the appeal of "Wild About It." The latter, Imbruglia's most galvanizing song, is a springy number with a fantastic chorus climax. On "Wild About It," the sound of exploratory freedom is heard ringing. "Want" acts as the portal between both sides of the album, combining old and new Imbruglia. It interpolated an established highlight, "Be With You," one of the new tracks from her 2007 retrospective, its first verse appearing boldly in "Want's" middle eight. Through it all, the mannered, emotive Imbruglia makes the cut intimate.
Directed By: Diane Martel
Come to Life is satisfying from start to finish, making its muted commercial fortune frustrating. The record is set to get a physical release in Britain in January 2010. Currently it's available only in digital form there. The album could also get an American release in February, her first since White Lilies Island. The continued growth shown here indicates Natalie Imbruglia's flame has not only "come to life," but will burn for years to come. Four and a half out of five stars.-QH
[Editor's Note: Come to Life is available as an import, varying in price, at your local independent music retailers. For more information on Natalie Imbruglia, visit: http://www.natalieimbruglia.com-QH]