Pop: The trouble with Natalie

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The Independent Culture


HALFWAY THROUGH Natalie Imbruglia's perfectly executed show, a knackered old sofa and a standard lamp are hauled on for her and a couple of her band members to loll around on. Bedsit chic is one thing, but a standard lamp? Why not go the whole hog and get the leccy cut off as well?

A lack of effort, as you might have gathered, is not something of which you could accuse Imbruglia. The toil that's gone into reproducing live the experience of her five-million-selling album, Left of the Middle, is considerable. The indie-tinged guitar rock Imbruglia favours sounds as well-mannered and crisp as I'm sure the young Australian is herself. That's to say nothing of the pains to which she, her band and producers have obviously gone to emulate the voguish, tortured female voices of Alanis Morissette, Garbage and Portishead.

The problem is Natalie herself. Her voice isn't at all bad and, when she's belting out something to match it, you want to hear what she's going to sing next (which is about all you can ask of a performer).

Her biggest hit, "Torn", is a case in point: live, it's the same seductive gem you've heard umpteen times on the radio. The loping rocker, "Big Mistake", also lets Imbruglia lose herself. When the quality dips, however, it becomes a question of credibility, which is something a former Ramsay Street belle is always going to find tricky to answer convincingly.

Natalie's biggest bluff (though it didn't seem to annoy an adoring audience) is her excruciating, demented rock chick persona. Again, blood has doubtless been sweated in front of countless mirrors to get this right, but she has the stage demeanour of an air hostess on her night off. The jeans and cardy - to match the standard lamp and sofa, of course - are all right; the contorted hand gestures and head twitching aren't, appearing with suspiciously rehearsed regularity. Worse still, after each song Natalie somehow shakes off her inner demons, cocks her head cutely, pleased as punch, and thanks us perkily.

Her record company may have a commercial Shirley Manson in mind, but Natalie looks more like a thinking man's Roxette. All the posturing is so needless anyway. At the heart of Left of the Middle there's a half- decent mainstream album trying to make itself heard.

In concert, Imbruglia performs crafted, listener-friendly, jangly pop like the hit single"Smoke" or "Intuition" pretty well. If only she could jettison the Morissette aspirations. The sooner she sheds the vampish cynicism of songs like "Impressed", the sooner she can settle down in the place she belongs: the middle.