MUSIC

Natalie Imbruglia back in music business after casting off writer's block on Firebird

COMEBACK: Natalie Imbruglia overcame a severe case of writer's block which almost sapped her confidence for making music. Picture: Simon Proctor
COMEBACK: Natalie Imbruglia overcame a severe case of writer's block which almost sapped her confidence for making music. Picture: Simon Proctor

IT'S easy to forget how massive Natalie Imbruglia was.

The Central Coast product's 1997 debut album Left Of The Middle sold 7 million copies worldwide, including 2 million in the US, propelled by her mega hit cover Torn.

The simplistic video clip was a defining moment in mid-90s pop music. It depicted Imbruglia dressed in cargo pants, tank top and her trademark messy short hair as she gazed directly into the camera with doe eyes.

Imbruglia's vulnerability and melancholic lament of a "you're a little late, I'm already torn" instantly made her a breakout star and separated her from the aggressive angst of contemporaries like Canada's Alanis Morissette.

Suddenly the fresh-faced ex-Neighbours star was everywhere. More hits followed with Big Mistake, Wishing I Was There and Smoke and then came a swag of ARIA Awards and Brit Awards for best international newcomer and best international female.

Imbruglia released subsequent albums White Lilies Island (2001) and Counting Down The Days (2005), which were successful, but failed to reach Left Of The Middle's stratosphere.

There was also her highly-publicised marriage with Newcastle's Silverchair frontman Daniel Johns between 2003 and 2008, which was popular fodder for gossip columnists.

Life in the public eye has been much quieter over the past decade for Imbruglia. Her last record of original material was the ill-fated Come To Life in 2009 followed by covers album, Male, in 2015.

LONG WAIT: Firebird is Natalie Imbruglia's first original album in 12 years.

LONG WAIT: Firebird is Natalie Imbruglia's first original album in 12 years.

During that period Imbruglia battled a severe case of writer's block, which eventually forced her to move to Los Angeles for two years to study acting.

Finally in 2018 a breakthrough came. Imbruglia went to Nashville for 10 days of songwriting sessions. It was painful, but pivotal.

"There were a lot of tears, and days where I felt, 'I can't do this'," Imbruglia says. "Then I had a turning point and wrote this song that I was incredibly proud of called When You Love Too Much.

"And it just flowed from there. It has been pointed out to me that becoming a parent coincided with overcoming my writer's block. Sometimes in life we just need a little reminder of who we are and what we're capable of. When you get back in touch with that feeling, you attract more of that."

In October 2019 Imbruglia welcomed the birth of her son Max, who was conceived through IVF. Becoming a mother has been life-changing for the 46-year-old.

"The best decision I ever made," she says. "It brings into clarity what matters, so you no longer sweat the small stuff.

"Becoming a parent gets you in touch with love, in a very different way. Unconditional love. It's given me a sense of peace, a sense of balance and perspective. It impacts your life in so many ways, and 100 per cent in your creativity, so it's definitely inspired a few songs."

CONTENT: Imbruglia lives in Oxfordshire with her two-year-old son Max.

CONTENT: Imbruglia lives in Oxfordshire with her two-year-old son Max.

Those inspired songs feature on Imbruglia's long-awaited sixth album Firebird.

The album was written over a two-year period and features co-writes with The Strokes' Albert Hammond Jr at Byron Bay's Rockinghorse Studio (Maybe It's Great), Magic Numbers' Romeo Stodart (Firebird) and KT Tunstall (Nothing Missing).

Due to the pandemic and Imbruglia being locked down in her rural Oxfordshire home with Max, Firebird was recorded with various session musicians over Zoom.

Despite the problematic gestation, Firebird sparkles with a new-found positivity for Imbruglia.

On her summery latest single On My Way she opens with "Woke up wanted for nothing/ Good things coming my way" over a poppy guitar riff.

Then on Built It Better, rather the hopelessness of Torn, she tackles obstacles with optimism by singing, "Nothing lasts forever/When it all falls down, gotta build it better."

"I'm just so deeply proud of this album, the ups and downs in my career really knocked my confidence," she says.

"I lost my nerve. So, to overcome that, it's been the most incredible ride. This is the most fun I've had making an album. I feel so blessed to have a career still, at this point in my life."

Natalie Imbruglia's album Firebird was released on Friday.

This story Natalie Imbruglia dusts off wings on Firebird first appeared on Newcastle Herald.