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Natalie Imbruglia – Want

NatalieImbrugliaWantVideo

The choice of first single from an album can be a fraught affair. Get it right, à la Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off and you please both established fans and attract the interest of the new. Get it wrong and you suffer the fate of Natalie Imbruglia’s Want.

That the single killed the impetus behind her fourth studio album, Come to Life (2009) is undeniable. The oft delayed album didn’t even get a full release in the UK (one of her biggest markets), only trickling out in Australia following the lacklustre sales of the single. It’s almost as if everyone was trying to forget about the whole thing.

Following her inescapable über-hit Torn, Natalie had released some great indie-ish rock pop songs, but to diminishing levels of interest and sales. As we’ve seen so many times, it was inevitable that Sony would invoke the emergency greatest hits option before ending their recording relationship. Want was her first independent release and it could easily – and in fact did – give the impression Natalie was about to launch a dance-pop album in the vein of Kylie or – gasp – Dannii Minogue. Now, as much as this prospect still makes me want to excitedly run into the arms of the Into The Popvoid team to celebrate, her fans had decidedly mixed views on the merits of Want and the record buying public responded with a collective shrug.

So why release such an atypical song from the album, particularly one which didn’t really have a chorus? Well first off, the Chris Martin co-writing credit certainly played a part. With Coldplay a massive global force and with two big hit collaborations under his belt (the not altogether dissimilar See It In a Boy’s Eyes by Jamelia and All Good Things (Come to an End) by Nelly Furtado), some of his pop-nous and plaintive style of melody would surely lead to a hit.

Secondly, Natalie had just come out of a divorce from Silverchair’s Daniel Johns. It was not altogether unexpected that she would want to reference this and show she was starting a new chapter in her life. Pointedly, the song incorporates the lyrics of the first verse of her 2007 song Be With You – a Johns co-write – into the middle eight of Want: “Don’t you see the light has changed / And nothing looks the same?” Ouch.

It may have been a divisive first single choice, but Want is a fine example of the intense and melancholy pop song – my favourite pop genre. In fact it was my pick for best song of 2009 (and yes, I’m aware Saint Etienne’s Method of Modern Love came out that year too).

 
With its swirling, galloping rhythm, propulsive bass line and orchestral swells, Want is an elegant pop confection. Natalie’s lovely tenor voice is mixed in with her lower vocal register (almost creating a subtle vocoder effect in the first verse) which creates a thrilling tension. That tension never lifts, the chorus is really just like a continuation of the verse and the song remains tightly, suffocatingly controlled throughout. It has no peaks and no troughs.

Now, in some respects, we’re used to break-up songs being about moving on, and ostensibly Want seems to suggest this: “I hope you get all that you really wanted” she sings, “’cause I’m moving, moving, moving on”. So far, so standard, but just listen to that repeating line that makes up the chorus. On a cursory listen it sounds like “I hope you get all that you want, ’cause I did”. But pay careful attention and chillingly, she sings “’cause I didn’t”.

Like the song, the video depicted Natalie in a completely new light. Astonishingly beautiful, a half-naked Natalie videos herself in one of those gorgeous London flats that only ever appear in high-class contemporary dramas and music videos – which clearly no-one lives in – but then, following the middle eight, the video intercuts with shots of some rather distressing images of her crying. It is an incredibly raw performance.

Such a volte-face in terms of music style and image was clearly too much for the UK public to process and Want limped to no.88 in the UK charts. If history could be re-written, a more obvious first single choice would have been the lovely, Brian Eno produced Lukas. Another Chris Martin co-write and Viva La Vida off-cut, it’s a gorgeous, shimmery thing and it would have been a perfect campaign opener. I like to imagine that Want would have then been released as a stupendous second single. Sigh.

In retrospect Want was too strange, too synthy and too honest for the general public. However, it remains one of the greatest, and most heartbreaking songs about the end of a relationship. It grows in stature with every passing year.

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Entered chart: 10/10/2009

Chart peak: 88

Weeks on chart: 1

Who could sing this today and have a hit? This is Natalie’s song and should remain hers, and hers alone. However, at a push, I’d allow Loreen to cover it.

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