Back in 1997, when Kylie Minogue was more Queen of the Bargain Bin than National Princess of Pop, the idea of a former Neighbours starlet embarking on a credible music career was laughable. However, from the opening chords of the soon to be ubiquitous Torn, it was obvious that Natalie Imbruglia wasn’t going down the Stock-Aitken-Waterman route of many of her peers.
The subsequent album Left Of The Middle confirmed her promise, being full of slightly Fiona Apple-ish, beautifully crafted songs with a slightly dark edge. The fact that she was drop dead gorgeous also helped her to win the hearts of indie boys nationwide.
That was four long years ago though, and since then, Kylie has donned her hotpants and reclaimed her position as Britain’s favourite Australian, while Imbruglia seemed destined to remain in the tabloid gossip columns, getting linked to an ever more dubious string of men.
There’s a lot riding on White Lilies Island therefore – now that the surprise factor is out of the way, the question is will enough people fall for this record like they did with Imbruglia’s debut?
The opening signs are promising – the first single That Day is a bit of a triumph. Totally different to anything from Left of The Middle, waves of guitar crash around a jumble of rather rushed, but very effective vocals. It sounds like a non-whiney Alanis Morissette after swallowing the entire R.E.M. back catalogue – and amazingly it still works.
Sadly though, not much on the album comes close to matching the dizzy heights of That Day. There’s a fair few ballads on this album, and while some of them – the beautiful Talk In Tongues in particular – are excellent, too many stick to the tried and tested formula of ‘quiet at the start, building up to a crashing climax’. In fact at first listen, it’s hard to tell Do You Love, Goodbye and Sunlight apart.
White Lilies Island is at its most successful when Imbruglia tries something a bit different – That Day being a case in point. The stripped down acoustics of the rather sweet Satellite give the song a nicely raw feel, and Wrong Impression could almost be The Sundays.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with White Lilies Island – it’s just a teeny bit dull. The fact that this album took four years and employed songwriters from Pat Leonard (Madonna) to Gary Clark (Danny Wilson) to make would suggest that some real musical risks were being taken, but there’s a definite air of anti-climax hanging over the whole affair. Fans of guitar led, angsty pop won’t be disappointed, and Imbruglia’s voice is excellent throughout, but it’s not going to change anybody’s world.