Natalie Imbruglia, Shepherds Bush Empire, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

If she had cause to feel let down, Natalie Imbruglia refused to admit defeat at her homecoming gig. Though the former Neighbours star has lived in London for 12 years, the audience gawped as if she were an exhibit at a zoo, and even her most vibrant numbers stirred the audience only to do more of what they were already engaged in: lifting their camera phones. Not that you should judge an artist by their audience, but this crowd's behaviour was symptomatic of the challenge Imbruglia faces to be taken seriously as a singer-songwriter despite her glamour.

She lasted two years as a soap actor, but since her early success, her music career has been outshone by appearances as the face of skincare and starring opposite Rowan Atkinson in the spy spoof Johnny English. So it was a mild shock to see her skip across the stage with wide-eyed enthusiasm, punching the air. The delivery was pure X Factor schmaltz as Imbruglia emoted every line, wrapping her arms around herself as she exhorted her partner to hold on.

For her third album, Counting Down the Days, we have been invited into Imbruglia's world of thoughtful cohabitation, where drama and passion give way to vulnerability and the warm glow of selfless love. The singer's gamine performance helped to underpin the record's insipid arrangements, though it was divorced from their sentiments, and the audience's lukewarm response.

Only occasionally did Imbruglia gel with these songs, mainly her full-on numbers, the open-hearted "Sanc-tuary" and the playful "Satisfied". The singer did even better when she settled down for an acoustic interlude, her voice coping well away from her band's tiresome pub rock. This was the treatment more of her songs deserved, along with an ill-judged cover of Crowded House's "Pineapple Head", mangled as much as her own material.

When Imbruglia did play her trump card, the odd mix of camp and sincerity somehow suited "Torn", a sharp take on mature pop that she delivered with just the right amount of affecting pathos. Almost as classy was the zippy "Bad Mistake", where the singer showed what Avril Lavigne could do if she lightened up. Imbruglia may model herself on Seventies middle-of-the-road doyenne Rickie Lee Jones, but she looked more comfortable as rock's answer to Kylie.

Touring until 29 November; www.natalieimbruglia.co.uk

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