Natalie Imbruglia



Some things you might not know about Natalie Imbruglia.

Propelled by international hit (and radio staple to this day) Torn, her debut album, 1997's Left Of The Middle, sold seven million copies, but it was her last studio album, 2005's Counting Down The Days, that went to Number One, with lead single Shiver becoming the most played song on British radio that year.

Imbruglia: you don't pronounce the 'g'.

She's finished with acting for now, although she really enjoyed making Closed For Winter, an Australian movie released this year.

For a minute there she was almost an indie label proprietor - she was on the verge of setting up Malabar Records, until one of her earliest champions in the music business, David Joseph, offered her a licensing deal with Universal/Island, where he's Chairman/CEO of Universal Music UK.

She's an enthusiastic charity campaigner - a proper, boots-on-the-ground advocate for the fight against obstetric fistula who's visited Nigeria five times in the last four years. 'We've raised millions for women suffering from this condition,' she will say, 'we've started an outreach programme where women get trained in basic healthcare, go back to their communities and encourage others to come forward. We've trained surgeons, and brought surgeons out from the UK. There's been a lot of progress, but there's still a lot of work to do.'

She's the singer and songwriter to whom Chris Martin has gifted what the frontman has described as 'the best Coldplay song he has written. How highly does Martin rate Imbruglia and the songs she's been assembling for her new album? High enough to take her round to Brian Eno's place to borrow the art-boffin's studio, to lend a songwriting hand in other places, and to offer some sterling advice on tracklisting and sequencing (important things, those).

And Natalie Imbruglia is the woman behind Come To Life: a TUNE-stuffed album.

Two years ago Natalie Imbruglia celebrated ten years of releasing music with a Greatest Hits. It was, she says, now a line in sand. A clearing of the decks. A full stop.

'It coincided with the end of my working relationship with my old label as well, so it really was a chance for a fresh start,' she acknowledges. 'I do feel I've got more freedom than I've ever had as an artist.'

That freedom reflected itself in her approach to songwriting and production. Imbruglia decided she would follow her muse. If that meant working with a variety of old friends and colleagues all over the world, so be it - she wrote with, amongst others Los Angeles-based Scottish writer Gary Clark (formerly of Danny Wilson), bunkered down in Miloco Studios in London with producer Ben Hillier (Blur, Depeche Mode, The Horrors), and also with the help of Dave McCracken (Ian Brown, Beyonce).

If that meant, as she puts it, 'flipping' some of the songs she'd written 'completely on their head', fair enough.

"For example 'Scars' changed from the demo to become an Arcade Fire, crescendo type track but then returned to the ballad-like demo"

'It's taken me years to have the confidence to let songs be changed, messed up, cut up, broken into pieces and assembled into something new. Ben Hillier helped me with that - I asked him for curveballs, and he turned songs that started out like Stevie Nicks into dance tracks. Brilliant!'

'I think there's a lot of songs that could be the first single - the album's quite schizophrenic,' she continues. 'I'm an album person, I don't really think about singles. I like bodies of work when I buy records. As long as I'm happy with all the songs I don't sweat it. But I love that Want is completely different from what I've done before. It's nice to come back with something really fresh.'

Showcasing that 'schizophrenia' is the shimmering, deeply personal All The Roses, an electronic ballad that shows 2009's crop of Eighties-referencing young female artists how a Kate Bush vibe and a nape-tickling synth-scape are really done.

"It was my grandmothers funeral in Australia.  My uncle was in a motel and my late grandfather appeared to him at the end of his bed and told him to dig up my grandmothers rose bushes. Bizarrely my dad and uncle had been discussing the roses earlier that day and had decided it would be too difficult to do anything with them. My grandfather even told my uncle where to find a shovel and to watch out for the pipes down there! They dug it up, gave clippings to all the grandchildren, and the roses bloomed out of season. My grandfather was a man of few words but was a really loveable guy. I know some people think it's wacky but I believe all that stuff. what a trip..."

The fat groove of Cameo is another club banger in waiting, and is reflective of Imbruglia's desire to include a bunch of 'sexy songs with beat, attitude, more of a sense of a humour.'

The sassy Wild About It came out of the same writing session. 'Those songs are really representative of where I am now.'

'After getting out of my deal with Sony I had a real creative spurt. I was feeling strong, confident and YES, sexy. Because of this new found freedom I started experimenting musically.'

'Chris was brutally honest, which is quite refreshing. Someone that talented you can trust. It was really nice to have an objective person come in and help you a bit.'

She knew Martin from 'years ago. I used to be at all Coldplay's early gigs.' But they hadn't spoken in a while, until Martin got in touch out of the blue, saying he had 'a couple of ideas that might not be right for Coldplay but they might be right for me. The next thing I know I'm at Brian Eno's house, borrowing his studio, as Chris sang this song to me...'

It was Fun, a glorious, heartfelt pop song. 'I thought it was the most beautiful song I'd ever heard. I nearly did one of those ugly cries and almost had to leave the room,' she laughs. 'I thought, why does he want to give it to me? But he just did. Lucky me, it's absolutely beautiful.'

Martin also lent a songwriterly hand with a tweak of Want, while Lukas began life as a Coldplay song. Fun and Lukas are instant classics both, but they sit of a piece with the rest of the songs on Come To Life. Scars (written with Jamie Hartman of Ben's Brother) is another elegant ballad, while Twenty, lush with strings and a thumping beat is sure to be a live favourite. Then there's WYUT, a raw, strident rocker written with two friends, Alan Johannes and Natasha Schneider in Los Angeles. It is a bitter sweet experience for Natalie as Natasha lost her battle with cancer before the album was finished. Natalie is clearly still upset, and it's perhaps no coincidence that her performance of the song is the album's spikiest moment.

Some things you'll soon know about Natalie Imbruglia.

She's a campaigner who's not to be trifled with - she recently addressed a UN forum in Geneva, encouraging heads of government to return to their countries to make the fight against fistula a priority on their health and social agendas.

She's never sounded better. Or, as Chris Martin puts it, "she sounds f*****g brilliant on [her new album]. I think she has a very unique talent and has an incredibly unique voice."

She's made the album of her career, and of her life. 'The title, Come To Life, is about really living,' she says, enthusiasm radiating from her conversation as much as it does from her new songs, 'not living the life that everyone thinks you should. It's about being who you are stepping up and stepping out. That,' she says with justifiable pride, 'is what I've done, and I hope people hear that in the songs.'