Natalie Imbruglia – Firebird

BMG Rights Management UK

Release Date: September 24th 2021

Reviewed by: Joshua Andre

Natalie Imbruglia– Firebird (Amazon mp3/iTunes)

Track Listing:

  1. Build It Better
  2. Nothing Missing
  3. What It Feels Like
  4. On My Way
  5. Maybe It’s Great
  6. Just Like Old Times
  7. When You Love Too Much
  8. Not Sorry
  9. Human Touch
  10. Change Of Heart
  11. Invisible Things
  12. Dive To The Deep
  13. River
  14. Firebird

I’m not sure if you know this, but I’ve been reviewing music for a long time. I think it’s nearing up to 10 years (2 and a half years on the now defunct Christian Music Zine, and 7 and a half years on this site!); and in all that time, the predominant genre of music I’ve reviewed is Christian music. It’s only recently that I’ve been diving deep into mainstream music, and I’ve discovered how God can speak through any type of music that He wants to. But for the better part of 10 years, I’ve realised something. Most of what I’ve reviewed is from America. And this is not a dig at American music. But I’ve also realised that whenever I have reviewed an album or an EP or a song, from an artist who was born in countries other than America (essentially either Australia or the UK), I’ve always found a sense of the music and the lyrics being more… honest, emotional, personal, than artists from the U.S.? it’s just something I’ve observed, and maybe it’s because of different lifestyles and how people from the U.S. have maybe a different world view or morals or values to everyone else… but the point is that I’ve always held a special place in my heart for British artists and Aussie artists. British artists like Ed Sheeran, Little Mix, Anne-Marie, U2, Snow Patrol, Leona Lewis, Phil Collins, Adele, Dua Lipa, Robbie Williams, Westlife, Ellie Goulding and Delirious? have all delivered powerful, compelling, moving and poignant melodies, all of them inspiring and in some ways more authentic than their American counterparts. And then you have the home-grown Aussie artists like Guy Sebastian, Stan Walker, Dami Im, Keith Urban, John Farnham, The McClymonts, Newsboys, Rebecca St. James, Vanessa Amorosi, Tina Arena, Missy Higgins, Amy Shark… they’ve all impressed and have all gained many spots in my heart- I’ll always have a soft spot for anyone who is from the land ‘down-under’. And this brings me to the album I’ve been blessed to hear over the past day or so, that I firmly believe demands special attention. Natalie Imbruglia (of both Australian and British heritage!) released her new album Firebird this past week… and the result is one of the most thought-provoking, inspiring, challenging, confronting and comforting albums I have heard all year.

If you all want to know about Natalie and her music and her history… this isn’t the place for you. Natalie has been out of the spotlight and not recording any music… since 2015. In 2015 she released an album of covers titled Male, while she also released brand new material in 2009 (Come to Life). This is Natalie’s first new all-original album in 12 years; and Jon wrote a blog about her last year, so you all can read that, and I’ll stop rambling so that I’m not actually repeating anything of what Jon has mentioned in depth already. In essence though, Natalie isn’t that well known, with her hits like “Torn”, “Wrong Impression”, “Glorious”, “Counting Down The Days” and “Shiver” all reaching some sort of relative peak on the Australian charts and virtually nowhere everywhere else. It’s unfortunate really, as her music hits your heart in all of the right ways; however a couple of listens to Firebird has reminded me that this re-birth and reinvention of sorts, could quite possibly turn her into a global bonafide star. Not that she wasn’t in the 90’s and 2000’s. But with this album, which I reckon is one of the most hopeful and impacting of the year thus far; Natalie’s future is bright. If there’s any album you would want to listen to first from her discography for those who haven’t heard her music; it’d be Firebird.

There’s something that happens that I’ve learned over the years. When you don’t rush into starting to try and write a song, if you just kind of chat, it’s marinating. The more you can relax with each other, the better melodies come out, and the better musical ideas come out because they get inside your head.

It became apparent to me that there’s been so much of my life, looking back, where I’ve been really fragile, and then there’s been other things [where] I look back at my life and go, ‘Oh, my God, you’re a soldier. How have you managed to keep all that together?’ It’s been a lifelong journey of trying to find the balance between those things and ultimately finding out that allowing yourself to be fragile is where true strength lies.

[there’s an overarching theme on the new album, outlining] things that I had to overcome or get through or realize 一whether that’s my journey to becoming a single parent or overcoming my writer’s block. All of these things were amazing life tools and juices for creativity to write, and I’m kind of sitting here, proof that you can write the best work of your career at the back end of all of that.

“Roadblocks are just temporary things. I wouldn’t have known a year ago that I could sit and write in such flow and have such a great time. I was literally terrified to even sing a note or try and come up with an idea for a long time. I don’t think it would ever be that bad again, because I’ve proved the theory wrong. Just keep showing up. Keep trying.

I believe that you have to show up for yourself. If you’re passionate about something and let’s face it, I know that I’d done it before, it’s not like I’d never written a song in my life. I’d written some things I’d been really proud of. I think it’s more the critic in our mind.

Life being the school of hard knocks, I think that we just can lose our confidence, and anyone can become susceptible to having that happen to them. It’s also about remembering that something like song writing is a discipline and not putting so much pressure on yourself to write a perfect song every time. Sometimes, I think I’m too hard on myself, and that gets in the way of flow. That’s not going to help you write a song. When you write something that you don’t love, you can laugh about it later.

One listen to the lead single “Build It Better”, which is in fact the album opener, and we hear vintage Natalie, and a reassurance that piano pop and adult contemporary music hasn’t all changed that much. this track brings back the nostalgia and the sentimentality, and Natalie delivers one of the best songs vocally in a long time. With the song lyrically being about two people on the precipice of a deteriorating relationship, and one of them realising that a failing relationship doesn’t mean that you can’t look back on events with fondness; Natalie reminds us that we can celebrate relationships that have ended, simply because they are a part of us and help us grow as people. As Natalie emphatically and emotionally relays that ‘…I love that you gave my heart a home, the place hasn’t changed but I’m here alone, I know it’s crazy walking wires, but nothing lasts forever, when it all falls down, gotta build it better…’, we are met with a somewhat positive happy-go-lucky piano pop song, brimming with hope and optimism, and assurance that despite broken relationships and adversity, life will be ok. The hurt and the pain might be still present for a while, but Natalie reminds us that in time, happiness and peace can arise out of the ashes.

The rest of Firebird is as compelling and moving as the album opener, and inspires us to live and life and live it to the fullest. “Nothing Missing”, an acoustic guitar led pop/rock melody, inspires us to stop looking for faults in people, and to stop trying to fix everyone around us; as Natalie relays to us that we each are responsible for our own journeys, no matter where they may lead, and that we can’t force everyone else to adhere to our own hopes and dreams for them. It’s a boppy, toe-tapping melody with a hard-hitting message; while “What It Feels Like” is littered with synth and electronics, and is reminiscent of 80’s styled music, whereby Natalie confidently and assuredly sings about moving headstrong into a relationship or a friendship that most of the world won’t understand. It’s a song about identity and finding your own self-worth, and realising that your own happiness is paramount and that only you yourself can travel along that path, with those around you not being able to persuade you one way or another… In fact this song gives us the permission to be ourselves, with its messiness and complications. Life is funny, weird, joyful and inspiring, and Natalie encourages us to take the paths that we want to, reminding us that our friends and family’s opinions mean something, but they mean even less than our own. If we’re not happy, it doesn’t matter if our parents and our friends are.

“On My Way”, a 80’s/90’s nostalgic light rock anthem, is a song filled with hope, light and love, as Natalie sings about a brand new relationship and holds out hope that it will be a fun-filled and long lasting one; while the intense rocker “Maybe It’s Great” speaks about the acceptance of the dysfunctionality of a relationship, and Natalie resigning herself to the fact that maybe it’s great that she’s realised that she’s at a crossroads of sorts with her partner, that ‘…maybe it’s great when you’ve got something to lose, maybe it’s great that the lies, they told the truth, ’cause I believe in miracles, but face-to-face the two of us don’t have a clue, and I been wondering if I can ever top the feeling that I have with you, maybe it’s great that there’s nothing left but you…’. It’s a song about realising that a relationship is broken, and that sometimes we need to decide to try to save it or let is sink; and it is this ambiguity about this song (and other songs from Firebird) that make this album applicable to people from all walks of life. “Just Like Old Times”, an 80’s themed rocker led by the bass, that features Natalie longing to go back to her previous relationship, and to relives the happier times (and this song doesn’t have to be about a particular relationship; and can instead be about just longing to return to simpler times where we all didn’t have that many worries or stresses); while the moving, inspiring and piano and acoustic guitar prominent ballad “When You Love Too Much” is an unashamed no-holds-barred declaration of loving someone ‘too much’, and the realisation that this could be a source of heartache. But Natalie is also unapologetic in this song, and reminds us all that she would ‘love too much’ if given the chance again- and that someday someone will appreciate and love her for who she is.

The surety and the sass continue with the pulsating and compelling “Not Sorry”, where Natalie eloquently says that she’s not sorry for leaving her ex, simply because it was a toxic situation where they were both bringing each other down; while the heartbreaking and melancholy tear-jerker “Human Touch” sings about the longing and hope of being connected with another, and about the realities of mental health issues. As Natalie sings about how she wants to find a way to stop the calamity in her heart and how she longs for human touch, as she questions ‘…how will the skies open up, I need to find myself to lose myself again…’; we are presented with a ‘Dear Evan Hansen’-like track, that is equally as morbid and emotional as it is inspiring and thought-provoking. It’s a good thing to realise when you need help and yet another thing totally to ask for help; and this song is one part of the first step in realising that you do have people around you that care about you and your well-being. “Change Of Heart”, an inspiring and moving melody that speaks about longing for a change of heart to break the cycle of monotony and the realisation that we all can do something great with our lives and not just exist from day to day; can also be read like someone wanting to leave a relationship be is unsure because their safety and comfort is being jeopardised. A song that inspires us to take a leap of faith no matter the consequences, “Change Of Heart” is a song that needs to be praised for its boldness and frankness; while the piano only radio friendly ballad “Invisible Things” has Natalie relaying that she doesn’t want material possessions and tangible things that fade in the end, but rather she longs for a true and everlasting love that is higher and much more satisfying than anything she could ever buy. Could Natalie be subconsciously longing for God’s love and acceptance? Maybe, maybe…

The thought-provoking and compelling “Dive To The Deep” once again reminds us of the magic and prowess Natalie has as a singer and as a songwriter, as she outlines how crazy in love she is with her partner that she would ‘dive to the deep’ and go to the ends of the earth to prove her love to them (in fact this is a sweet and emotional love song at its core!); while the penultimate song on Firebird is “River”, a quasi-spiritual melody, depicts a pure love at its core, and the earnest desire of Natalie for her partner to be open to her and to be vulnerable, and her asking the ‘river’ to flow through her partner so that they can be made whole. Is Natalie praying to God in this song? Quite possibly, or maybe not. But regardless, this song is indeed otherworldly and special… and no doubt it will mean different things to different people. Yet for me the most resounding and moving track on this album is the album ender- the title track. “Firebird” is the longest song on the album is, and is almost 5 minutes, as Natalie sings about her struggles in the industry and the fact that she’s making a comeback. Subtly and covertly singing about her plight to release this album and the fact that adversity after adversity has hit her and she is rising up out of the ashes like a fire-bird, we are presented with Natalie imparting to us words of wisdom, that ‘…I will sing you tales of love, bring them down from up above, oh yeah, but I get restless in the night, and when it’s time to go you know I will take flight, oh yeah, ooohhh, let me fly…’. The lyrics here are quite vague and probably require many listens to properly understand what Natalie is singing about. But there’s still beauty in this song and we get the sense here that Natalie is overcoming her demons and, in the end, having peace with her own decisions surrounding her well-being in this season. And if there’s one thing that we understand and grasp from this song and this album, is that all our journeys are unique, and that we need to embrace the unknown and embrace what is on the other side of what we do know, so that we can live ad thrive in a happy, enjoyable, inspiring and comforting life.

You have to be built of strong stuff to do this job, but it also requires you to be fragile, which is what Firebird really represents for me. This album is just the most raw and exposed I’ve been, and it flowed. It’s funny because all that stuff that I went through, when I made this album, I didn’t feel like I was swimming upstream. Once I got over the writer’s block I was just in flow.

Instead of trying to sit on top of those feelings, it’s allowing that fragility to be there, that’s where the strength really lies. It’s not about putting on a brave face. I think it’s something that I’ve struggled with my whole life. I’m like a soldier, but I’m really fragile. And it’s those two things, finding how they sit together well. I think I’ve learnt it’s just about letting things fall apart.

This is the best work I’ve done, I’m really proud of this album. I can look back now and know that I couldn’t have expressed myself in this way if every single bad thing before it didn’t lead to another thing. It’s all a gift. It’s just making sure that when you’re in those challenging times, you can have the forethought to say, I’ve been here before and something really good happened, instead of seeing something as just a disaster. That has been my experience, but I’ve had to do a lot of soul-searching and build back up my confidence and it’s not an easy thing to do, it’s really not.

According to the internet, a firebird is any type of bird that has a bright orange or red plumage. It’s a type of bird that stands out, and that is exactly what Natalie Imbruglia has done with this album. It’s pure 90’s nostalgia and reminds us all that she still has what it takes to compete in such a cutthroat industry. Lyrically, Firebird is pure gold, and with thought-provoking and relevant topics discussed with professionalism and aplomb, this means that we all can dive into some pretty heavy stuff but not feel so overwhelmed and bombarded with things we’d like to avoid. There are some songs that speak about relationships, and others about mental health, while the final two tracks I guess lyrically are open to interpretation… because they literally make me scratch my head in an extremely good way. Natalie is back as a singer and as a songwriter- and this album is one that is a must listen. So many moving and inspiring tracks. I’m sure you will agree with me too. Well done Natalie for such a fantastic and epically awesome comeback!

4 songs to listen to: On My Way, When You Love Too Much, Invisible Things, Firebird

Score: 4.5/5

RIYL: Vanessa Amorosi, Amy Grant, Natalie Grant, Delta Goodrem, Sarah McLachlan, Kylie Minogue, Alanis Morrisette

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