Come To Life, the fourth album from Natalie Imbruglia, was originally intended for release in autumn 2009. Then, at the eleventh hour, after review copies had been issued to sundry music publications (including, of course, this one), her record company have chosen to shift the release back to February 2010.
Such a late change smacks of nervousness on the part of Imbruglia’s label. This nervousness is also reflected in the album’s sequencing, which sees the Australian singer’s trademark aspirational pop shoved unceremoniously towards the top, while the album’s second half comprises five experimental songs. (That’s ‘experimental’ in terms relative to the rest of Imbruglia’s output; it’s not as if she’s rivalling The Residents for weirdness just yet.)
First, then, the ‘normal’-sounding stuff. Opener My God begins with some wrong-footing, industrial-style clanging, but soon settles into a comfortably familiar groove: an acoustic guitar is strummed purposefully, and Imbruglia trills about nice things: “a sea so clear”, “a face that’s so beautiful”, and so on.
It’s followed by Lukas, the first of three tracks featuring songwriting contributions from Chris Martin. In typically understated fashion, Martin has described Lukas as “the best Coldplay song of all time”. He jests, of course, but Lukas really is an utter delight: Imbruglia’s vocals wrap themselves snugly around its elegant, meandering melody and only the most cold-hearted of listeners could fail to enjoy it.
Indeed, Come To Life really doesn’t put a foot wrong during its first half: Imbruglia sounds completely at home with the material and the tasteful production serves the songs perfectly. Fun – another offering from Martin – ebbs and flows gorgeously. Twenty’s pizzicato strings summon all manner of pleasing images: lovers gambolling in fields, dresses billowing in a summer breezes, and, er, country houses.
The first half closes with Scars, possibly the one track that sounds most like a hit, not coincidentally because it bears the closest resemblance to that debut single from 1997. It is, basically, a massive power ballad, but its understated acoustic guitars and all-round tastefulness give the impression that it’s loathe to admit to this status.
From track six onwards, things take a turn for the electronic, as the album’s ‘experimental’ second half is ushered in. Want (the first single), Cameo, WYUT and All The Roses may all be labelled loosely as ‘synth-pop’ – hitherto unexplored territory for Imbruglia’s music, which has tended to be organically-grown.
The results are variable. Cameo’s sturm-und-drang keyboards and come-hither lyrics don’t really rest well with Imbruglia’s demure musical persona. WYUT’s attempts to marry folk with techno are valiant, but ultimately unsuccessful and awkward. The melancholic All The Roses, however, fares much better, perhaps because the song at its core would’ve slotted quite easily into the album’s first half.
Overall, though, Imbruglia has every right to be very pleased with Come To Life. This may be her strongest set of songs yet and, even if not every one of its experiments quite comes off, at least these are indicative of an artist who’s not content to cruise on auto-pilot. She should, however, be much less happy with her record label, whose dithering over the album’s release date just might have scuppered its commercial chances.