Back at last, and with absolutely the best work of an already glittering pop career, here is Natalie Imbruglia. But yes, the question has to be addressed. Just where has she been these past two or three years? Why is the in-your-face (and, very quickly, in your entire consciousness) new single ‘That Day’ the first thing we’ve heard from her in (by pop standards) a very long while? Well, there’s only one person who can answer that … But before she does so, let’s remind ourselves of some facts.
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For many artists, the mantra is ‘Success At Any Price’. Were they lucky enough to have had a debut single which, four years ago, came out of nowhere to seduce an entire pop-loving world, they would have hung on to its coat-tails for dear life. By now, it’s likely that we’d have heard way too much of them. And each successive offering would have been a paler, more plaintive version of the track that first brought them musical fortune and fame. The magic would have been lost. Happily though, Natalie is not many artists.
Instead, she is an individual, strong in her convictions and determinedly true to herself and to others. She readily admits that the international success of ‘Torn’, that multi-million-selling, multi-trophy-grabbing hit we were just talking about, not only thrilled and empowered her, but also chilled and (creatively, for just a little while) incapacitated her. “It went around the world like a domino,” she recalls now. “I chased that record from one territory to the next. And then I raced around a second time collecting award after award after award for it. That song had a momentum all of its own.”
With the result that, when all the flames and attendant fuss eventually died down, she was left at something of a crossroads. Option One was to grab her passport again and just ride that wave to infinity – tour until there was nowhere left to play, promote every last track on the debut album ‘Left Of The Middle’ until there was nothing else left to release. But that just isn’t her style. She didn’t earn the honor of being the most credible music artist ever to cross over from an Aussie soap (yes, that’s right, neighbors), simply to squander the title via endless, pointless, empty self-promotion. She cares about her creative output a very great deal more than that.
Because Natalie is no dilettante. She’s entirely serious about this stuff. And so she chose Option Two, that which involved giving herself some time, retrieving a little privacy, and reinhabiting a normal life (which after all, is where real inspiration is to be found). “At first, I think I was suffering from a delayed reaction to all that happened,” she says. “It was kind of like being in shock as a result of having had so much success so quickly. I needed time out.” And so she took things slowly, seized on various forms of displacement activity. “Little projects. A song or two for film soundtracks, stuff like that. All of which was a way of avoiding addressing the big issue – the writing of a second album.”
But eventually, she did address it, and (let’s fast forward) the results are simply stunning. Written in the UK and America but recorded in London with a variety of producers (Ian Stanley, Gary Clark, Phil Thornally and Pascal Gabriel), ‘White Lilies Island’ is the sound of a grown-up artist who is secure in her abilities and who has lived and loved enough to have something worthwhile to say. “My hope is that I sound comfortable with myself,” says Natalie. “I can’t do Britney. I can’t just bounce out there and do happy pop. Writing is a much more instinctive thing for me. The people who made me want to do this in the first place – women like Joni Mitchell and Shawn Colvin – draw on what has happened to them in life, tuning the specific into the universal. I’m big on that too.”
Through writing collaborations with Clark, Thornally, Matt Wilder and, on ‘That Day’, the celebrated Pat Leonard (co-author of some key Madonna hits), Natalie has achieved just that, and in a variety of musical styles. Unlike the formulaic output of so many of her solo peers, this new material has the freewheeling, self-propelling feel of some of our favorite bands. “That’s because, in my fantasy, I’m the male lead in a rock group,” she laughs. “But because I’m female and pop, my musical interests and influences get filtered in a certain way. It’s not a male band sound, obviously, but is still a harder one than some people might expect.”
It’s never the easiest thing for Natalie to say that she’s proud of something she’s achieved. “I’m always really harsh on myself, much more so than I am on other people. So for me to get to a point where I can say, ‘This is a really good piece of work …’ is quite something. But I believe it is. Which makes it all worthwhile, because I’ve pushed and fought and struggled to make this album as good as it possibly could be. OK, the expectation might have been that I’d come back with something before now, but I felt it was really important that I held out until I could say, ‘Here’s the new record, and I’m really proud of it’.” That time is now. Listen for yourself and discover that it really has been worth the wait.
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