Australian girls kill me. Not literally, of course — although no doubt some would like to — what I mean is that they kind of tweak me in all the right places. Perhaps wrongly, I automatically associate the upwards, optimistic intonation of their accent with sunshine, blonde hair, and an easy life. I am nothing if not a fool for believing in stereotypes.
Laura Imbruglia is a talented Australian, and her album What a Treat is a blast of warm sunshine. It’s not difficult to have a predicable crush on her. Clearly this is irrelevant; if Claudia Schiffer (as an example) fronted a pop group and it turned out that she couldn’t sing for toffee, I’m sure she’d have some followers, but probably not that many in the long run. Artists have to attract an audience, and successful artists manage this by being attractive (which doesn’t have to be physically). What I’m clumsily trying to say is this: whilst I’m generally known as an exceptionally shallow individual, even if I was “crushing” (I believe this is a modernistic verb) on an artist, I still wouldn’t bother with their music if it was lousy. I’m heartless as well as shallow.
Imbruglia has a crush herself on opening track “Awoooh!”, addressed to the object of her affection, someone who could “have anyone you want / But I want you to want me”. It’s witty and artfully constructed, sung at full volume like a B-52 in her bedroom. The singer endearingly thanks the object’s ma and pa, and “anyone who made you who you are”. Why “Awoooh!”? Because the singer’s howling at the moon in lust and desperation of course. It’s bubblegum pop, and impossible not to like.
“Harsh Dylan Songs” cleverly alludes to a host of Bob songs and has a distinctive ‘50s guitar break straight from the school gym. We then head into different territory with “If I Ever” and “Limerence”, which both have a country twang, but as if the band are playing from Imbruglia’s garage. This is a good thing, because it stops the production from being maudlin. The lyrics are good, and keep the listener’s attention – “I love you like fire loves wood”.
“Straight to the Bar” is a commiserate but infectious drinking song as if sung by the Ronettes and backed by the Beach Boys. “Ain’t Done Yet” is quirky and unusual, with some California harmonizing as we hear about modern love gone wrong: “We were rolling around in my bed / And I let myself get all kind of naked / You didn’t even remove a single sock / I wish I’d seen it as the blatant metaphor it was.” “The Intervention” is an old-fashioned ensemble effort, just as interventions should be, so it’s a surprise when “Why You’d Have to Kiss Me So Hard” is sequenced next, as it invokes the spirit of punk and grunge. It shows a diverse talent, Imbruglia interested in what she can squeeze out of herself like fresh orange juice. “Incest” continues the experiment, although let’s hope not literally. It’s got a great guitar riff, as if the devil always plays the best tunes.
Appropriately, Imbrulglia closes by going back to country with “What a Treat”. This is where the band play at their best, and Imbruglia’s heart can admit that she was wrong. Overall the songs take solace in trying your best but messing up, yet still trying to enjoy the ride. As a result it’s an album with a lot of heart, and with that you can never go far wrong.
Label: Ready Freddie/MGM
US Release Date: 06 JUL 2013
FIRST PUBLISHED POPMATTERS 22 JUL 2013