Review Summary: A 2nd gear finally exists, but Imbruglia is still looking for Torn Mk.II.
Back in 1997, Natalie Imbruglia took the world by storm; earning a Grammy nomination for debut LP 'Left of the Middle' and breaking airplay records with its lead single 'Torn'. While television soap stars had previously made a successful crossover to pop music, it seemed Imbruglia was different. Here was a female vocalist who sang with a decidedly indie bent, and one who was even brave enough to kick-start her musical career with a cover of a practically unknown song. You won't see the kiddies on Idol do that!
Unfortunately, since 'Torn', Imbruglia's musical career has coughed and spluttered in between the occasional acting assignments and a tilt at modeling. Recording predominantly safe and unimaginative cuts, it seemed that Imbruglia's problem was that she was so single-mindedly searching for Torn Mk.II that she never pushed herself to moving into 2nd gear. With a little help from some... ummm... friends, the now 34 year old explores that 2nd gear and the results are mixed.
The first acquaintance who collaborates with Imbruglia here is long-ago flame Chris Martin. In fact, 2 tracks are practically off-cuts from Coldplay's critically acclaimed 'Viva La Vida' LP. It's apparent with 'Fun', a cut that is too grandiose for its own good. However, the quirky & unconventionally hooky Brian Eno produced 'Lukas' is a different matter, since Natalie's innocent sounding vocals truly make this her own (although I have to wonder whether Suzanne Vega is raising an eyebrow somewhere). Later, the catchy chorus of acoustic ballad 'Scars' is also a highlight, since it has that same likeable charm.
Half-way through 'Come To Life', listeners should be satisfied, but not surprised. The latter half however, does make an effort to spice things up, as Imbruglia searches for that 2nd gear with some electro-pop. Initial signs are positive since lead single 'Want' (which has been re-worked over the years and was co-written by Martin & ex-husband Daniel Johns) successfully delivers dreamy melodies over a satisfying programmed beat. Unfortunately, it all falls apart from there since Imbruglia lacks both the attitude and vocal strength to pull off dance numbers 'WYUT' & 'Cameo'. Thankfully, the joyous & celebratory 'Wild About It' does end things on a high note.
Originally to be released in Australia & throughout Europe in October, the physical release of 'Come To Life' in the U.K (her most popular market) has been pushed back to February 2010. It is a confounding decision since this may in fact be Imbruglia's most complete package. Cynics will suggest that is not saying much... and they would be correct. However, while she has not found Torn Mk.II and continues to prove her weaknesses as a vocalist, Imbruglia has at least shown some much welcome diversity here. That, along with her hallmark sweet melodies, means that 'Come To Life' is at least worth a listen.
Recommended Tracks: Lukas, Scars & Want.