It’s the kind of comeback that most pop stars can only dream of.
In 2021, almost 24 years after bursting with her international hit Torn, Natalie Imbruglia played a pivotal role in two of the coolest pop records of the year. A sample of her voice drifts – like a distorted AM radio transmission – from Pond House, the delicious, breakbeat-heavy debut single from the 10th studio album by solid British pop group Saint Ettienne, I’ve Been Trying To Tell You. And its spirit emanates from Solar Power, the windy and sunny third album by New Zealand pop prodigy Lorde, which was inspired by the pop style of the 90s, with its “brilliant, forward and shimmering acoustics” that Imbruglia characterized. . .
In both cases, Imbruglia represents both a stylistic guide and a sort of nostalgic ideal – an icon of openness, luminosity, lightness, sentimental calm and supreme freshness.
The cultural vibe is just right, in other words, for the big comeback of Imbruglia itself. It’s been more than a decade since the Sydney-born, Oxfordshire-based musician released an album of originals – Male, a cover record, was released in 2015 – and though returning records sometimes carry a puff. in desperation, Imbruglia is clearly still bugged. in the easy-going kindness that has made her such an important point of reference over the past 12 months.
Firebird, his sixth album and the first for indie giant BMG, is delightfully unloaded: a carefree study of pop and rock trends that revives the fact that, at his best, Imbruglia is a savvy lyricist and incisive, intelligent hook writer. At best, as on the spot Not Sorry, Imbruglia positions itself totally outside the cowardly economy of falls from grace and backtracking, embodying a kind of peaceful effervescence: “I have life in my heart, life in the bank, the life in my body / I’m not sorry.
Just as Lorde and Saint Etienne referred to Imbruglia to convey a specific yet ineffable vibe, Firebird’s highlights touch on distinctive musical tendencies as a sort of shortcut for certain feelings. The punchy track from On My Way, one of the best tracks here, is reminiscent of Haim’s wonderful 2020 record, Women In Music Pt III, and her powerful, high classic rock sound. What It Feels Like is animated by an 80s pulse, and it recalls Carly Rae Jepsen’s distraught, emotion-loving dizziness: “Now I know what it’s like to love someone like I love youShe sings, effusive and ecstatic.
Build It Better, with its catchy chorus of “When it all falls apart / I have to build it betterIs a proper anthemic in Taylor Swift’s 1989 style, and Nothing Missing, co-written with KT Tunstall, channels the provocative angst of ’90s and 2000s pop that Imbruglia herself was a part of.
As the record progresses, it plunges into sighs of spaghetti western theater (Human Touch) and vocal ballad (Dive to the Deep, Invisible Things), but it is this first part of the record that is the most convincing, its stylistic hopscotch suggesting a host of alternate realities in which Imbruglia has reinvented herself as an indie rock icon or dean of synthpop.
Trying herself to the sounds of the moment, however, is a double-edged sword: although Firebird is still bound by Imbruglia’s bugle voice, the production around her leaves something to be desired. It feels like this is an album for those who, like Imbruglia, may have borrowed pop music in the last decade: people who won’t listen to On My Way and who wish for the analog warmth of the true Haim record; who won’t want the bass of What It Feels Like to hit a little harder and the synths to dazzle a little more. There is a glazed and laminated feel to reality music which drops Imbruglia’s crisp handwriting.
Still, it’s hard to see Firebird as anything other than a victory for Imbruglia herself, who radiates gravity and contentment throughout. “I aim higher, older and wiser,“She sings on On My Way”,This thrill could be real.“We certainly want to.