Natalie Imbruglia’s latest album Firebird touches on themes of vulnerability, independence and burgeoning confidence post-breakup.
Recorded mostly in lockdown, Imbruglia describes recording the album as a “profound and satisfying experience”. If only one could say the same about the listening experience! While it would be to be overly negative about optimistic and inoffensive mum pop, this is where Imbruglia fails in terms of wholistic album engagement. The Sunday Brunch playlist/daytime TV vibe guarantees its commercial success, but we’ve definitely heard it all before.
Before we are subject to the same idea 14 times, the opening track draws you in well. Also, the lead single of the release, Build It Better opens with sparse, punchy piano, drawing us into a world of frank, pain-ridden lyrics. From this, however, Imbruglia draws hope and optimism “If it’s falling let it fall […] When it all falls down, gotta build it better”. We all enjoy a bit of dancing-in-the-rain music, but by track 2 Nothing Missing it’s evident that we’re probably in for more of the same. The slight ‘retro’ 90s/00s feel is, admittedly, quite comforting at times, but it wears thin accompanied with the same recycled self-help stock lines declaring “If you tell yourself you’re broken then you just might break” (Nothing Missing).
The key themes running through the release are the simultaneous reflection on love lost, while looking forward to a more positive future. The overuse of this, however, means many of the tracks on Firebird become filler tracks, with not much difference between them. Coupled with the 90s/00s tinge, the whole thing feels a bit stuck in a time warp. When You Love Too Much takes this one step too far, with the slow fireside guitar providing a base for lyrics such as, “I won’t apologise for caring like I do” (I found myself wanting to hear the other side of this story and what “caring” really means to Imbruglia…).
The sad-Rom-Com montage sound of Change of Heart only adds to this, prefacing the uplifting finale of River and Firebird. It’s a shame that by the time River rolls around, the listener is so mentally unstimulated from the previous 12 tracks on the same theme that it is hard to appreciate the grounded, earthy sound of River. While I appreciate Imbruglia trying to amend her questionable romantic ways (“You’re the one/The one for me/Not the one I want/But the one I need”), it’s all too little too late.
This album will probably be very commercially successful, filling shopping centres, lifts and This Morning segments for months. The tracks individually are fine and have their own temporary appeal, but sitting through 14 of them is hard work. Torn will always be a banger in its own right, but sometimes the past doesn’t need to be recycled over and over to be appreciated.