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Sometimes, you CAN judge a book by its cover...
on 6 June 2011
When this album came out in 1997, no-one expected much of Natalie Imbruglia. Casually dismissed as yet another ex-Neighbour looking to conquer the charts, being arguably one of the most beautiful women on the planet probably did her more harm than good in a post-Alanis Morissette era when even Kylie couldn't get arrested. Even now, the suspicion remains widespread that any success she's had must be down to her dazzling looks, rather than any musical talent.
'Torn' - the best-known track here - was a hugely successful single and deservedly so, but it remains her biggest hit, casting a long shadow over both the rest of the album and everything she's done since. This is a shame because for a debut offering, 'Left Of The Middle' is both assured and remarkably eclectic, ranging from the radio-friendly rock of 'Wishing I Was There' and 'Don't You Think' to the gently jazzy 'Leave Me Alone', a song that sounds like it could have been on the Sneaker Pimps' first album the previous year.
Right in the middle (!) of all this sit a brace of impeccable ballads: the dramatic 'Smoke' with its dark lyric and soaring chorus, followed by the elegantly understated 'Pigeons and Crumbs'. Your average R&B diva could learn much from these two songs about how to sing a tune without strangling it - and Ablisa (Google them) really should be forced to listen to them both for a whole week before ever being allowed near microphones again.
Perhaps inevitably, there are moments when the Morissette influence is a little too obvious - 'One More Addiction' and especially 'Intuition' sound blatantly contrived - but as redeeming closers go, you'd struggle to find anything better than the title track: a wonderfully intimate vocal from Imbruglia, with just a sympathetically-strummed guitar for company. Listening to this, along with the acoustic version of 'Torn' that's floating around on YouTube, one can't help wishing she'd followed a rootsier path, rather than trying to keep up with the Minogues.
Still, 'Left Of The Middle' remains an album full of surprises for those who have Imbruglia pegged as just a one-hit wonder with a pretty face. After all, there's no law that says good looks and talent are always mutually exclusive - some people are just incredibly fortunate. But who cares when they can sing like this?