For my money, Natalie Imbruglia is the best female pop artist since the mid nineties. As Glancers will know by now, for me emotion and honesty are more important than originality or fitting in with the current musical scene. Imbruglia fits these personal criteria as well as having a superb, appealing, harmonious voice and being an all round great human and bad-ass. I was a fan from day one. Scratch that, I was a fan from her Neighbours days, long before she hit the charts with her multi-million selling debut. Most people know her for the smash hit Torn and… that’s about it. As great as that song is, it only hints at her talent – the real deal would come out in White Lilies Island her second record which I have called (and continue to call) one of the best albums of all time. It genuinely is – do yourself a favour and get it now – melancholy, brutal, euphoric pop at its finest. A bunch of complete morons gave it, seriously, gave it bad reviews. Jesus wept.
Since then her general popularity has waned, no doubt due in part to a less than frequent series of releases. Five albums (including one entirely of covers) in twenty years isn’t great, but the general quality of those more than makes up for those missing years. Sort of. She has also recorded a large number of B-Sides and rarities, the best of which would make at least one more superb album. From the indie Brit-pop rock of Left Of The Middle, the majesty of White Lilies Island, the mature pop of Counting Down The Days, and even the much maligned Come To Life and covers album Male, Imbruglia has carver her own path and deserves a hell of a lot more exposure and critical acclaim than she has received thus far. I’m giving links to Youtube for each song, where there is a single I’ll give the official video link and the album track as there are usually differences. Here is a rough list of my favourite Imbruglia songs. Listen and love!
We kick off our list with a cover from Male. This droopy-bass heavy is a slow effort with not a lot of exterior instrumentation which suits the downbeat grunge feeling of Neil Young’s original. I will say this – Male is not an album I am super familiar with yet and while a number of songs immediately leaped out at me others did not have the same impact. Songs like this one which I enjoy now may drop out of the list if I was to write it in a year’s time and likewise others which have not been included here could appear. Today is today though, and this is how I feel. I also feel warm, because I’m writing this on a train filled with sweaty types.
If you’re a regular glancer on my blog you’ll probably know I’m not much of a country fan. Country music is an inherent US product, yet also oddly a Northern Irish one. Country music is everywhere in my home crust Earth and I’m biased in that I associate the whole stinking genre with either idiots, scumbags, people who don’t really care about music, or people who refuse to listen to any other type of music. Massive stereotyping ahoy! I do like this as it doesn’t contain the usual whining guitar or vocals which is prevalent in the genre. I haven’t heard the original at the time of writing, but I’ll get to it.
Natalie Imbruglia. Patricia Arquette. Billy Corgan. Blood. This cut from the movie Stigmata is one I liked a lot more around the time that movie came out. I think it’s a movie and a song I thought I liked more than I actually ever did – both are things I wanted to like more but they’re just okay. The song is better than the film; it’s smokey and mysterious and dreamy, almost like a lost Portishead song. It’s a song that doesn’t really sound like anything else Imbruglia has ever done, aside from one song which will appear later on my list. The various contributors to the song are each masters at their craft and ensure it is a ghostly partner to the film it fits. I do love the line ‘am I lonely or am I just alive?’
45. My God
The opening song to Come To Life – Imbruglia’s first album in x years had a lot to live up to for me. It sort of sets the tone of the album in that there isn’t really a tone. Come To Life’s main problem is that it feels like a collection of leftovers or experiments – main problem is that it feels like a collection of leftovers or experiments – My God a pulsating, thronging pop punk thing with strange noises and spirited vocals. It works, but it doesn’t work as well as it could and doesn’t compare favourably with her opening tracks. Still, I include it here because it is an interesting effort.
The second track from Come To Life goes off in a tonally and totally different direction from the first – this one clearly a Coldplay song with their usual mixture of simpering mistakes and pseudo-Radiohead bating. Imbruglia adds a smooth layer of quality, slicing out any pretension and leaving a light, jolly song which is better than I thought it would be.
The first of the new tracks recorded for Imbruglia’s greatest hits album Glorious to appear on my list, Stuck On The Moon has lovely, poetic flourishes in the lyrics and a fine juxtaposition between the cascading piano and clattering drums. It would have been sad to end her musical career at this point as this song proves she was as capable of crafting a simple yet catchy pop song as anyone.
I’ll let you in on a secret; I’m not a huge fan of Imbruglia’s first album. I like it, obviously, but it doesn’t compare with her second and third, and as such there won’t be many songs from it on my list. This is probably the best example of her twisting the indie sound of the era to her own means. It’s a little bit Morrissette, and a little bit Brit-Pop, but fluid, fun, and the chorus –like many on the album, is designed to be ear sherbet. When you get to the end of the list you’ll see which songs from her debut were left off in favour of this one – I simply find this one more fun.
As above, this one merges independent the rawk girl sound which emerged in the 90s with Imbruglia’s own captivating presence and uniquely sweet vocals. This song feels a little more progressive or different from the more obvious hits on her debut, it still has its heavy indie moments but is infused with jazz and mystery and the sombre undertones which would characterize her next album.
40. Just Another Day
Out of all her B-Sides ad rarities, this one feels most Brit-pop, going as far as reminding me of Robbie Williams back when he was starting his solo career by stealing from Oasis. This was actually a B-Side to That Day so that particular era was long turned over to dust by the time it was released. I’m convinced this was written earlier though and that sound was retained, even if a few touches of instrumental colour were added near the end of the song to expand its sound. All that being said, it’s a bowl full of sunshine, whatever that means.
39. My Own Movie
What I loved about discovering all of the B-Sides and rarities is the variety. Yes, they all still fall into the rock/pop/girl and guitars category, but the songwriting and general styles vary and there seems to be more freedom or less restrictions on what the song needs to be. This one seems to start like a downbeat ballad before the booming chorus floats those notions away. I love the chorus harmonies/filler vocal bits, the jangling guitars, and the strangeness which is allowed to lurk in the melody.
This is arguably the happiest, most obviously joyful song Imbruglia has recorded and I defy anyone who listens to it to not smile throughout. Lyrically, I’m not really sure what’s going on – suggestions of stress and speed and crap with Imbruglia offering herself as an anchor in the storm. The verses are fine, but the chorus is pure grinning heroine. Harmonies, guitars, strings, melodies, happiness!
37. Pigeons And Crumbs
The first expansive song on her debut and another which hints that she was already demanding to break out of the overall sound of that album. The verse vocals are sung in little girl lost style which somehow doesn’t annoy, rather it incredibly adds to the song. Imbruglia may be the only singer who sings in a prominent accent which never irritates me. This is still a simple verse, chorus, verse album track, but it evokes a more epic scope thanks to some angelic production and layering.
I’ll admit again here and now to not having heard the original, knowingly at least. I checked and saw it was by Death Cab For Cutie – a band I don’t know much about but remember laughing at their name when I first heard it. I still don’t know much about them but I admit I lumped them in with a bunch of other pop rock for children American acts which have been charting in recent years. The strength of this cover makes me want to listen to the original and see if the band has any good stuff. I imagine anyone who can write the line ‘Lover mine, some day you will die, I’ll be close behind, I’ll Follow You Into The Dark’ must be a decent writer because, God, that line really gets me every time. Imbruglia’s delivery along with the music and melody seal the deal, and I’ll admit to being tearful when I first listened.
The title track closes the debut, the softest, quietest song on the album but one rich with feeling as Imbruglia yearns for the lover she is yet to find. It’s a great vocal performance, gentle in the verses, stretching to breaking point with each renewed chorus. It’s a very simple song but she again proves you don’t need to have complex structures to get a wealth of emotion and quality across.
A song recorded for Come To Life and written with the singer from British band Ben’s Brother. That band decided to release their version first so Natalie kept her one as a rarity. Again, I haven’t heard Ben’s Brother’s version but this one is great – love the build up to the chorus and the chorus has a fantastic hook. Come To Life is a short album and there’s definitely room for this one to be included. Again the vocals find and highlight the emotion of the lyrics beautifully and the closing chorus where she half-shouts, half-sings is glorious.
33. Only You
This one opens with some dark, ambient, warbling electronic sound – like ears filling with water. The vocals come in cleanly and plainly, work through a double pre-chours thing before giving way to gentle guitars and a lovely chorus. The song basically repeats everything above but with greater power in those repetitions. It’s all lovely.
You probably know, or can guess I’m not a Coldpay fan, mainly because they’re shite. I didn’t mind their first album but everything since has been pale and bland and painful attempts at cloning Bends-era Radiohead. Normally I wouldn’t mind such things, but it’s so blatant and so clearly missing the point that it’s laughable. But people like them, so fine. Credit where it’s due though, this is a fine song but you can instantly tell it’s Coldplay thanks to that piano and beat and rhythm which appear in several of their biggest singles. Imbruglia does her best to make it her own and I much prefer her vocals to how I imagine Chris Martin would yawn his way through it.
Much of White Lilies Island is sombre and soaked in melancholy, though generally the music covers the angst of the lyrics. Not so with Goodbye – lyrically and musically it is inward looking and despair fuelled, the despair of love voided. We’ve all been there, whether concerning love or loss, the well-meaning comments which suffocate and further distance us, the anger crushed by sadness, and the utter confusion. The lyrics are mumbled semi-coherant thoughts, the verses droned into the bottom of a glass, and the chorus the shattering of said glass against a wall.
‘When I say it doesn’t matter, it matters most of all’. We’ve all seen those silly women cliché posts on social media or in decorative shops – ‘Things a woman says and what she really means’. That opening line always reminds me of such things, but not in a negative way. You can guess then that we have more contradictions in the lyrics, but musically this features the summery guitar driven pop which is a central feature of Counting Down The Days. The melodies and chorus don’t grab or reach as much as others on the list, but the overall warmth of the song ensures you come back for more.
29. That Girl
That Girl always reminds me of a Motown track, the jangled guitars, the beat, the horns in the introduction – it all has the vibe of a Supremes song. The lyrics seem to speak of the multiple personalities we adopt to cope with the many facets of life forced upon us or which we have to cope with – one face for romance, a face for fans, one for friends, family, the smiles and acts which we hone over time for a variety of reasons until one day we see ourselves performing these perversions but fail to recognise the actions as our own. It’s a classy song with lovely harmonies and a great chorus to boot.
28. Always Never
Speaking of contradictions, this one is driven by such thoughts – the clue is in the title. This one is a perfect mixture of evocative vocal performance and verse to chorus melodic wonder. The lyrics are very nice too, once again speaking of the inner and outer self and an inability to cope with that balance until misery becomes the preferable solution.
27. All The Magic
Sounding like a cut from Counting Down The Days, All The Magic is as pure and easy as you could wish for – acoustic guitars and Natalie’s voice dancing through the verses. The pre-chours comes in suddenly, and then the chorus soars into the sky taking the corners of your mouth with it. Yeah, you’re going to smile at this one as it forces you to remember your first love – those excited feelings about getting ready to meet, about catching one another smiling across a room, about allowing your defenses to come down and your feelings to be shared.
26. Be With You
This is how you do piano drive pop – a very simple descending piano line leading in to soft electronic beats and a basic, short verse. It all serves the chorus, it all sounds like typical happy pop stuff except she’s saying ‘I don’t want to live if I don’t want to be with you’. This reminds me of some of the Lifeblood era Manic Street Preachers stuff, at least in terms of production and melody. Regardless, it’s another one which never fails to make me smile. And hop about.
25. All The Roses
The last great song from Come To Life is this brooding, bleeding ballad. It’s slow, led by unusual electronic hums and beeps and punctuated by alarm bell piano. With most of the music stripped back you get a clear shot of the vocals – strong throughout with the best moments coming in the bridge before the final chorus. I like how the song unearths a subtle beat in the final moments which threatens to build and turn into some dance track – instead a little violin takes over and the song comes to an abrupt end.
24. Do You Love
We stay in darker territory, which means we must be back on White Lilies Island. This is a mixture of low register guitars, soul-churning strings, and mournful vocals. The pre-chorus goes grunge, the chorus goes stadium rock, and the song instantly lands in my favourite’s list. The volume and backing sound continues to grow, all the way to the massive final chorus. You should know by now that this album is essential and almost everything on it is fantastic – this song should reach out to a multitude of fans of different genres – like all good music it doesn’t matter what your preference is, you just hear and appreciate.
A sad song about distance, a happy song about looking forward to being together again. This one kind of lost out a little when the single trimmed parts of an already short song – stick to the album version. It starts out as a tear-jerker with John Lennon’s Imagine piano and Imbruglia’s vocals bemoaning the fact that she is apart from the ones she loves, but holy crap the pre-chorus with it’s tiny guitar piece, and the chorus itself are exquisite. Moving back into the verse feels like a come down meaning the song plays a little with your emotions and expectations – none of which I have a problem with. Then the Christmas/Wedding bells come in at the end to confuse me even more. Still time for one last Hawaiian guitar bit and another chorus!
22. Against The Wall
My favourite new song from her Glorious Greatest Hits album is one which wastes no time – thronging guitar chords and more summery melodies. Imbruglia is a master of that segue-way from verse and chorus as I have written about already and this is another prime example. It can fall apart if you don’t have a pay-off in the chorus, luckily here all three pieces are flawless. You already know I love the bridge too.
What can you do to a beloved The Cure classic to make it your own? Why this of course. Whatever the hell this is, that’s precisely what you do. It’s a little bit country, a little bit weird, and a hundred percent marvellous. As mentioned earlier, some of the songs from Male may go up and down drastically in my preferences as I’m not as familiar with them as everything else but I don’t see me ever not liking this. The first time I listened to this I almost literally laughed my balls off. I mean I laughed, yes, but then a few minutes later as I was driving some old fucker pulled out in front of me leaving me with no choice but to pound the breaks futilely and smash into him. My balls remained in check, and in sack, but my car was a write off. True story. Do I like this more than the original? That’s hard to say – they almost feel like different songs. In the end, both give me the same feeling of euphoria, and that’s all that matters. It’s an achievement because it includes two things I hate – Country music and hand claps – yet it’s inexplicably wonderful. SATURDAYYYY – WAIT!
20. Talk In Tongues
We need to calm down after that last one – back to White Lilies Island for another downbeat, heads-down-walk-in-perpetual-rain-uphill-to-nowhere song. This opens a little like Lucky by Radiohead – similar guitars for a few seconds anyway. There are bizarre little moments throughout, little digitized ticks and strange jangles, and explosive vocals blast in the bridge where the song changes almost entirely, only to be pulled back down by the old-black-and-white-movie strings to the somber chorus once more.
Pop perfection. Imbruglia announced her return with this first single from her third album, a song which ended up being the most played on British radio in 2005 apparently. I don’t recall it being played at all. I assume then you’ve heard it, but if not get listening now. There’s the usual sense of melancholy, but it’s more underplayed here thanks to the warmth of the melody.
Covers are funny things. I had not heard the original by Daft Punk, and I’ve never been a huge Daft Punk fan anyway. After hearing people raving about the original I went back to it and found it too twee. Imbruglia’s version feels much more emotional to me, or at least it speaks to me much more. That’s the funny thing about cover versions – we usually like whatever version of a song we hear first. Thanks for writing the original guys, but Natalie beefs it up into a soul-searching, heart-rending ballad and blows your one away.
If you were around in the 90s you heard this song. You saw the video. Presumably you fell in love with the song and the singer. It’s perfect, but I’ve heard it so many times and it’s such a part of the public consciousness that it doesn’t top my list. Technically a cover, it’s Imbruglia’s entirely – can you think of any other version which comes close to this? If I’m picky I prefer a live version without those silly digitized drums. My favourite parts? The way she changes the vocal slightly for one of the final ‘I’m cold’ lines and the way she sings the first ‘That’s what’s going on’. I don’t know why.
16. I Won’t Be Lost
Lovely lovely lovely. One of my favourite vocals from her, mainly because the lyrics have so many vowel sounds and soft sounds – row, vertigo, unaware, billionaire – and the way her accent tackles them is gorgeous. Then there is the pleading, breathy delivery. Then there’s the superb ‘Don’t you give up on me’ section. I will understand fully if people see this as boring, but for me it’s among her best ballads, beautiful, sweet, defiant.
When this kicked off Come To Life on my first listen, my first thought was ‘Holy Heavens, she’s done it again’. The album as a whole doesn’t live up to this first track, but it’s a brilliant opener and should have been a single. There’s enough of a beat to dance to it or blast from your stereo, it has the mixture of love, hope, and sadness that she conveys so well, it has glorious backing strings, and a chorus which deserves to be performed live by thousands of adoring fans.
We’re now at that point in the list where the songs are all so good and I love them so much that there isn’t much difference between them. This B-Side to Wrong Impression could easily have made it on to White Lilies Island – it certainly fits the general anguish and strength coursing through that album. This is absolutely gorgeous, note-perfect piano, flawless vocals, I love how the strings and guitars drift in and fade away, I love the weird wind instrument piece in the middle – everything is so underplayed as if she just walked into the studio one day and announced she’d written a new song and the band added their own pieces in a single take.
My favourite song from Come To Life is a ballad and was planned as the second single. I’m not sure how well it would have performed, yet in our current climate of bland Adele love pap, this one deserved to soar to the top of the charts. The lyrics have a wealth of honesty, you can feel each word like a slash at the wrist, the performance an undressing of bandages and a presentation of the scars. It’s simple, brutal, wonderful. There is a more up-tempo, earlier version out there but I’ve only heard live versions of it – I prefer the album take.
My favourite song from Left Of The Middle, and the first sign that Imbruglia was much more than a pretty face and a decent singer. Smoke is entirely apart from everything else on that album – unnerving, majestic, cryptic, mesmeric. It’s also a greater vocal performance than anything else on her debut, but for me it’s all about the mystery and fear which is conjured. When the strings come in and the volume increasing around the ‘you’re pushing me’ line – my gawd. For the longest time I assumed she would not top this, but then White Lilies Island came out and.. well, you’ll see.
11. Starting Today
The opening track of Counting Down The Days just missed out on my top ten. That’s meaningless though because this is another nigh-on perfect song. A song of realization, opening your eyes to your self, your worth, and what is on front of you, a song of moving on, on leaving behind but not looking over your shoulder, looking ahead, head held high. Each time I hear this I forget how slow it is – something about it makes it seems faster than it actually is. Favourite part here? ‘Eve-RE-day, ev-RE-day, ev-RE-day-ee!’
10. Come On Home
Top ten now, and we start hitting songs that have some weird single moments that I love – putting them in my personal pantheon of best single moments in music. For Come On Home that moment occurs late in the song when Imbruglia suddenly wails on one of the last ‘Come on homes’. It’s completely unexpected and brilliant, for me at least. I don’t see anyone else getting as much joy out of that moment as me, but it helps to push the song high on my list. The rest of the song is great, that goes without saying, mid-rock, plenty of pounding pianos and chugging guitars.
Remember I mentioned earlier about happiest songs? Well, this may be one of the happiest songs by anyone, ever. None of that Pharell balls. If you don’t find yourself repeating the ‘do-di-do’s then you need to be put down, stat. Every single note here is joyous, heavenly. You can feel the smiles in her vocals. There’s a cyclical nature to this song and several others on White Lilies Island – you know, songs that start out a certain way and end the exact same way? I don’t just mean verse chorus verse, I’m talking a complete mirror – intro, verse, chorus, verse, outro. Enough of that nonsense, this is just fun beyond words.
Another hit single now, albeit one which starts out with a hilarious fake classical intro. Man, I love the pronunciation on some of the ‘I want you’ lyrics. This is another sublimely sunny song, especially given the general dark tones of the album. What else do I love? The key change at the end, standard pop fare I know, but it works even better here. Also, the dragged out ‘didn’t want to leeeeeavve you there’.
It’s another example of those times when the B-Side is as good as, if not better than the single. This is better than Counting Down The Days – both terrific songs, but this one is special. Sure on the surface it’s another soulful ballad about lost love, but it’s so damn genuine and drenched in truth and feeling that it’s painfully universal. Every melody is perfect, the simplicity doesn’t require a single extra note or instrument, she does that cool vowel thing that I love when she sings ‘no’, ‘go’, ‘know’, and ‘hello’ and the chorus with its central lyric will rummage its way around your brain for days after a single listen.
Another track which begins with extravagant strings, which you should know by now I’m a sucker for, and then leads into what seems to be a depressed verse until you realise the the lyrics are actually positive and touching. Another brilliant vocal, just acoustic guitar, Natalie, and the strings, an entirely charming song to melt the stoniest soul.
It’s only in relatively recent years that I tracked down Natalie Imbruglia’s b-sides and rarities. I knew Identify and Glorious from their respective releases, but I never bought any of her singles even though I bought each album around the time of release. I can’t remember what b-side I heard first, but the moment I heard this one I knew that she was one of a select few artists capable of recording varying material which could be just as strong as her album tracks and singles. I’m not talking just a handful of flukes, but at least an album’s worth of rarities which would be just as good as any of her official releases. Shikaiya is one of the finest B-Sides (here it’s the B-Side for That Day) I’ve ever heard, an unashamedly beautiful ode, a song of new life, new love, of dedication, one to play surrounded by blue skies, white sand, and blistering sunlight.
White Lilies Island again, and another one of those cyclical, perfectly symmetrical songs. By this point in the album you already know it’s an all time classic, songs like this popping up everywhere. By this point in the list I don’t need to explain how I feel about these songs or how good they are – perfect verses, perfect pre-chorus and chorus, guitars, strings, vocals, everything. I love how chaotic the chorus gets and then how the verse sucks everything back in and calms the mood, I love how she switches up which part of the chorus comes first each time around, and I love how it ends as it began.
I still remember the first time I heard That Day – the first single from White Lilies Island. I caught the video and was immediately smitten – it was very different from her previous stuff and had a more mature and dense sound – the 90s were long gone and this was Imbruglia’s personal blend of pop and rock, still replete with everything that made her special. The video is pretty great too, simple but a sign of the defiance and spark of the album – everyone and everything pushing against her but she is walking on regardless – a simple motif, but it works. The album version is of course superior but the single gets the jist across – great riffs and melodies, but my highlights are simply how many words there are in the song meaning the vocals become a frantic rushing of thoughts. My second highlight is the way the line ‘I lay down beside myself’ is changed every single time – a different inflection, or word selected to pronounce more heavily or emphasize, or give it slight melodic twist. What the hell – my third highlight – which shouldn’t really count, are the bizarre overdubbed harmonies on ‘it’s supposed like this’. They sound like mistakes which were accidentally left in, but again they somehow work.
2. Come September
White Lilies Island comes to a close with this downpouring of loveliness. The opening drums suggest it will be a heavier affair but then the swooning guitars and vocals join in and we know this is more of a mini epic ballad. Her vocals are never more angelic than here, the way she pronounces the word ‘die’ is maybe my favourite moment in any of her songs and yet the rest of the song is filled with similar little moments. It all feels so effortless, from the subtle introduction of the strings to the chinking piano loops, to the celebratory key change leading into the final verse. The lyrics are wonderful too, my only issue though is that I hate September and can’t bring myself to agree that everything wrong’s gonna be alright come September.
My number one song has basically been my number one since I heard it, and yes we’re staying on White Lilies Island for it. If you trust anything I’ve said in any of my music posts (and I’ll admit my tastes are pretty weird) then go and buy that album now. Hurricane starts off with a slow guitar arpeggio or note progression played through a filter which makes it sounds like it’s from some old timey 1910 era sepia movie. There are some sort of seaside noises too, or at least that’s the sense I get while listening. Then the vocals start, creeping through the verse’s undergrowth, lyrics about shock and confusion, before the song emerges into the clarity of the chorus with perfect string section building and guitar change. The second verse is more of the same with the addition of bass and off kilter percussion and then, as we have come to expect with this album, the two part chorus is again switched around so that the second part comes first. Everything peaks and we drift off into the sunset. It’s simple, symmetrical, and if it isn’t one of the best songs of all time then I think I’m finally done with the human race.
Phew. I think Natalie Imbruglia as an artist is someone who can appeal to any music lover and if you have dismissed her as pop pap or sub-Morrissette/Brit Pop stuff I would urge you to give her another try. Hit a few of the links above and let me know. If you have any special thoughts or memories of any Natalie Imbruglia song or if you want to share you favourites then drop them in the comments below!