Natalie Imbruglia’s new album proves she’s still in the game

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This week our critics hear the latest news from Queen of Pop Natalie Imbruglia, dreamlike tones from Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine and are blown away by the five star jazz of James Brandon Lewis.

Nathalie Imbruglia
Bird of Fire (BMG) ??

Build it better was the obvious opening track for Natalie Imbruglia’s debut album since 2015 – the same year the Western Bulldogs suffered a final narrow elimination loss and Melbourne finished 13th overall. Imbruglia, much like those two AFL teams facing off in the grand final on Saturday, worked hard for a comeback. Also the first single from Bird of Fire, Build it better finds Imbruglia rather upbeat, singing “I’ll be OK, more than OK”, as a punchy tempo and sparse piano introduce the first of 13 new songs. “Nothing lasts forever, when everything collapses, you have to build it better,” she sings, 23 years after winning the ARIA awards.

Natalie Imbruglia goes back to writing her own songs, now about change, growing up and not being sorry.Credit:Simon procter

Despite another long break between albums, Imbruglia brings her familiar window-down style, wind in her hair to Maybe it’s awesome, a song she co-wrote with Strokes producer Albert Hammond Jr. Francis “Eg” White, who first worked with her in 2005 Count the days, returns, mixing a layer of old, proven formulas with the new one. It’s a theme that runs throughout the album, with recurring notions of change, growth and not to be sorry.

It’s been over a decade since Imbruglia’s last album consisting mostly of self-written songs, Come to life, and six years since its release Man, an unimaginative track hinting that what you’ll find inside are songs originally sung by men. She tackles popular tunes like The Cure Friday I’m in love and Cat Stevens Wind came out of the blue, and yet there was real energy and passion that Imbruglia brought to the Man project. His voice, always fresh and summery, would rarely be mentioned in the same sentence as Pete Townshend, but his cover of Townshend’s Let my love open the door was a true example of an artist who is not afraid to leave his comfort zone.

And now, after battling a period of avowed creative inertia, she’s coming out the other side with a largely recorded album on lockdown. Nothing is missing and Like the good old times bring out the best of Imbruglia’s voice and get closer to the magic she struck with her greatest success, Torn up, itself a reworking of the 1995 song by Californian band Ednaswap (and first recorded two years earlier by Danish singer Lis Sorensen). All these years since Torn up, Imbruglia not only writes songs again, she is always in the game, and Bird of Fire is a proud confirmation of this and more. MARTIN BOULTON

Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine
A beginner’s mind (Asthmatic kitten) ½

Nowadays, a new Sufjan Stevens album doesn’t seem as important as it once did – in the days of Illinois and Michigan in the mid-2000s, for example. And this collaborative record, of course, is not a Sufjan Stevens album per se, and yet its beauty is such that it stands up to anything the 46-year-old American has done.


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