Not many would put money on Mariah Carey's latest getting beat by Natalie Imbruglia, but that is exactly what happened on the British albums chart. Last week both LPs debuted in the U.K., and the only thing Mimi was emancipated from was the burden of a debut at the top, which Imbruglia pulled off sans trumpeting, white roses or red carpets.
Three years after her last album, White Lily Island, Imbruglia has ambled back to the music business with Counting Down the Days. Taking her time isn't a new concept for Imbruglia; she had a similar gap between her first two records. The pressure of following up the hit "Torn" (from 1997's Left of the Middle) may have burdened her on her sophomore effort, but the third go-round found her in a better space. "It's never easy for me, but it's been a more enjoyable experience. I think after getting married, I'm just more content, and work is more fun. I don't feel like people are watching as closely this time. It was more free."
The 30-year-old singer isn't content to have her career hang on one or two hits and the high cheekbones she shows off in L'Oreal ads. Taking three years wasn't part of the plan, so the album title represents what it felt like to finally have it completed. It also summed up a theme about long-distance relationships that runs through the record, though this time around, Imbruglia has no intention of straying far from home. According to her stateside label rep, there are no immediate plans to release the record or tour here. Instead, Imbruglia wants to let everything take a more natural course. Even the selection of the single was more organic, and the song itself was designed to take its time ingratiating itself on the listener's palate.
"Shiver," co-written with Eg White (who has worked with Joss Stone) appealed to Imbruglia as an obvious first-single choice even though she admittedly wasn't deeply involved in its creation. "They wrote it with me in mind," she explained. "Out of all of the songs, my input into that song was smaller. But the smart thing when a good song comes along is not letting it pass by because of that. It was just the perfect set-up song for the record."
Still, Imbruglia said that she took the time to tinker with it. "I personalized it and changed a few things so it was something that I could sing with conviction. I just made it my own, but it's just one of those songs where the story draws you in straight away, and that's really hard to find in a song. It's catchy, but not in-your-face. It's a bit more of a grower."
The song is perched at a comfortable 15 on the U.K. singles chart, and there is a video that has already been shot. Describing some of her earlier videos as "dodgy," "Shiver" can conversely be visually referenced to "The Bourne Supremacy."
Shot over four days in a freezing cold Kiev, the clip was directed by Jake Nava (Usher, Beyoncé). Imbruglia said that her experience as an actress (on the Australian series "Neighbours" and in the film "Johnny English") helped her connect with him and fake the close-ups for many of the car sequences. "I was going so slow — I shouldn't say that because people are going to be looking out for it now — but that was pure acting skills there. He was directing me, telling me what to do: 'Now you're turning left,' 'Look out, there's a car in front of you,' et cetera."
So who did the car-crash sequences? According to Imbruglia, three burly guys dressed in long black wigs. That image is rattling considering Imbruglia's waifish but womanly appearance and the mellow tone of the album itself.
In Imbruglia's opinion, standouts on the record include the leadoff song "Starting Over," "Honeycomb Child" and the title track. "Starting Over" epitomizes the idea of new beginnings for the singer. "I guess it's a theme that I come back to, she explained. "It's something very reassuring, that you have the choice to start fresh. So it's my personal philosophy in life."
"But then 'Honeycomb Child' was fun to do because it was me just experimenting a bit more, and I'm a big fan of David Kosten," she said, referring to the artist better known as Faultline, who co-wrote the track and has also collaborated with Michael Stipe and the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne.
Working on the album with her husband, Silverchair frontman Daniel Johns, was "a really spontaneous thing." Johns and Paul Mac, his partner in the Dissociatives (see "Singer's Comeback Aided By Dance-Music Maven"), both contributed to Counting Down the Days, particularly on the track "Satisfied," which Johns wrote and co-produced. "It wasn't something I asked him to do," Imbruglia explained. "The fact that he was up for it blew me away. I'm a big fan of his work. He didn't have to do that."
Having her husband with her both in and outside of the studio has relaxed Imbruglia. "This one has been fun because I feel I have grown as a songwriter," the singer revealed. "I got a better grasp. I'm more brave about changing things and making decisions and taking control of it. It was fun in that respect, in just being happy in my personal life. It's been a good one."