Torn (P Thornalley/A Preven/S Cutler) 1997 and Big Mistake 1998 (N Imbruglia/M Goldenburg) and Shiver ( N Imbruglia/Eg White/S Solomon)- Natalie Imbruglia 2005
Australian cast members of the long-running television series Neighbours had artfully charted a course from soapie success to pop stardom for some time before Natalie Imbruglia released her cover version of Ednaswap’s (below) Torn.
But nothing that Kylie or Jason had achieved with their debut records got even close to the phenomenal success of Imbruglia’s blockbuster debut hit, the single Torn sold 4 million copies worldwide and between 1990-97, was played on Australian radio over 300,000 times to become the most played song ever to that time. Her debut album Left of the Middle quickly clocked up sales of seven million copies, Natalie Imbruglia had very quickly become a music industry phenomenon. Below – L-R Young Natalie, Neighbours role as Beth Brennan, Parents Elliot and Maxene.
The daughter of a migrant Italian father Elliot and Australian mother Maxene, Imbruglia (1975) was raised in Sydney and after appearing in several television commercials landed the role of surfer girl Beth Brennan in Neighbours, and featured in 250 episodes of the soapie, before relocating to London two years later in 1994 to pursue a recording career, where she signed with RCA.
Torn was written by Scott Cutler, Anne Preven and Phil Thornalley (Cure, above) as a solo song for Preven but Cutler and Preven’s band Ednaswap performed it live before the first recorded version of the song by Danish singer Lis Sorensen was released in 1993.
Imbruglia had struggled to connect with the music industry insiders in London until she met Mark Fox (above) former percussionist with Haircut 100, who hooked Natalie up with former Cure alumnus Phil Thornalley, a co-composer of Torn, and this was the connection that would ignite Imbruglia’s career.
Ednaswap released a version of Torn in 1995 which was darker, more angsty with a Velvet Underground ambience, but Torn became something that was subtly different, more vulnerable, yearning, and sweet-natured with Imbruglia’s treatment, its point of difference was not dramatic, but the overall package of the girl and the song proved to be irresistable.
Imbruglia recorded the song in London and Los Angeles with producer Thornalley and a stellar team of session musicians- David Munday (lead guitar- wrote Lift for Shannon Noll and Friday’s Child for Wendy Matthews and he had recorded with Stevie Nicks, Sinead O’Connor, Belinda Carlisle) and Phil Thornalley (bass and rhythm guitar- Cure, Thompson Twins, Bryan Adams), Chuck Sabo (drums, Elton John, Ronan Keating), Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker (Zero 7 drum programming – silverchair, Sia, Eskimo Joe, Radiohead), Katrina Leskanitch (vocals – former lead singer Katrina and the Waves) and Nigel Godrich ( sound engineer – Radiohead). Below – Anne Preven and Scott Cutler
Musically Torn is something of a contradiction, breezy, bouncy, pop, but with a darker, lyrical message, that was more obvious in the original Ednaswap version. Imbruglia’s vocals are sweetly melodic with a wistful little girl vulnerability about them, but she is conflicted about her current relationship and this is effectively captured in the chorus “ “Nothing’s fine, I’m torn/ I’m all out of faith/ This is how I feel/ I’m cold and I’m ashamed/ Lying naked on the floor/ Illusion never changed/ Into something real/ I’m wide awake and I can see/ The perfect sky is torn/ You’re a little late, I‘m already torn.”
The opening acoustic guitar chords frame Imbruglia’s plaintive vocals and an undercurrent of bass threads its way serpentine-like through the song, unexpectedly there is a choral insert about halfway through and an affecting guitar riff coda which closes out what was a perfect pop production by a capable session team.
The promo video portrayed Imbruglia and actor David Sheffield as the protagonists in a romantic tug-of-war inside an apartment, shot front on from the same angle throughout, the video reveals itself to be a series of outtakes with the director and stage hands appearing and disappearing and Imbruglia occasionally looking straight to camera in a conspiratorial way.
Stage-hands start to dismantle the set during the song, symbolic of the crumbling world of the couple, ” I don’t know him anymore/There’s nothin’ where he used to lie/Our conversation has run dry/That’s what’s goin’ on/Nothing’s fine, I’m torn…”, Imbruglia dances by herself in the closing shot. The video was on high rotation on MTV and was rated one of the best music videos of the 90’s.
Torn was #1 in the US for eleven consecutive weeks and #1 in five other countries, it charted top five in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, NZ, Switzerland, and the UK, she picked up no less than eight ARIA awards in 1998/99, as well as two Brit awards, a Billboard award, and a clutch of other prestigious nominations.
Imbruglia’s debut album Left of the Middle was even more successful and was certified double platinum in November 1998, it is the highest-selling debut album by a female pop/rock artist ever, more than Alannis Morissette, Fiona Apple and Meredith Brooks combined, in its first week. Her follow up single to the smash hit Torn was Big Mistake which proved that Natalie was no one-hit wonder, where Torn was slickly-produced pop with its angst sublimated, Big Mistake’s grungey sound allowed Natalie to wear her woes plainly on her sleeve, it charted #6 Aust, #2 UK, and top ten in Italy and NZ, sold 300,000 copoes globally and deserved to do better. Below- Cover artwork x2, Imbruglia’s home on White Lilies Island (London)
For the next decade Imbruglia would struggle to emulate her stunning debut success, her second album White Lilies Island, named after a spot on the River Thames near where she was living in Windsor (UK), arrived three years later, Natalie had co-written all the tracks, and it was much – anticipated. However, the album failed to resonate with her fans, although it did benefit from slipstreaming behind Torn and Left of the Middle, but there wasn’t an obvious lead single, although That Day charted #14 in Aust, and the album still sold a million globally.
In 2003 RCA/BMG Sony rejected her third album for not being radio-friendly, they offered to engage Swedish pop producers Bloodshy and Avanti to refocus her songs, but she refused and moved to Brightside Records. In the same year she married Silverchair front man Daniel Johns at Port Douglas (Q’land), and also appeared in the movie Johnny English with Rowan Atkinson, in 2005 she released her third album Counting Down the Days.
This album produced the hit single Shiver, which Imbruglia had co-composed, and it nailed the formula for a radio-friendly hit, charting #8 in the UK and #19 in Aust, and top ten in Italy and Hungary but she had lost traction in the USA where it failed to chart. Despite reaching # 8 on the Official Singles Chart, Shiver was the UK’s most-played song across radio and TV, live performances and public spaces in 2005. The music vid was inspired by the Bourne Supremacy, and was filmed in Kyiv, Ukraine during the winter which imparted a bleakness to the high action visuals. Natalie stars in a series of espionage-themed vignettes, as she changes identity and engages her unnamed enemies in high speed car chases, until she finally escapes, but remains a fugitive on the run.
The album sold 600,00 copies globally, but for the next six years Natalie would reside in LA and focus on her movie career, appearing in Closed for Winter (’09), Underdogs (’13), and Among Ravens (’14) which were all box office flops. Below- L-R Album Artwork, NI on judging panel for The X Factor Aust, Natalie as Panda in the UK version of The Masked Singer.
In 2017 a greatest hits compilation, Glorious: The Singles Collection, was released which also achieved total sales of 600,000, she appeared as a judge on both the Australian version of The X Factor (2010), and the UK version (2011), took out British citizenship in 2013, and gave birth to a baby boy in 2019 via an IVF/sperm donor arrangement. There followed a perod of inactivity until 16 June 2021, when Imbruglia announced on her official Twitter page that her single Build It Better would be released on 18 June 2021. It was the first single lifted from her sixth studio album Firebird, which was released on 24 September 2021. This album represented a return to music after a six-year hiatus during which she says she experienced “writer’s block”, and it hit #10 in the UK and #30 in Aust, she also further undescored her re-emergence when she won the third series of The Masked Singer UK as “Panda.” in 2022.