Natalie Imbruglia Natalie Imbruglia
Left of the Middle

Ex-Australian Soap star Natalie Imbruglia has already scored a crossover Modern Rock/Top 40 hit with the funky drummed and sweetly phrased bit of heartache called "Torn" ("illusion never changed into something real/I'm wide awake and I can see the perfect sky is torn...I should have seen just what was there and not some holy light"). And Left of the Middle has 11 other tracks that are just as deserving of steady airplay.

This is a savvy disc that mixes just enough "edge" with Top 40 pop trappings. Sound a little like Alanis Morissette?

You bet.

Vocally and musically, Imbruglia holds a lot in common with Morissette. In fact, "Big Mistake," "Intuition" or "Wishing I Was There" could all pass for new Alanis singles. But even when Imbruglia tries to be dangerous ("I could sting like a bee/careful how you treat me...don't come crawling" she sings in "Leave Me Alone") she comes across as less frighteningly intense and angry than Morissette (it's hard to feel intimidation in the lyrics of "Leave Me Alone" when in the same song she offers "think of all the bubbles of love we made").

It's not all chunky riffs of electric drums and lightly distorted guitars though. On "Leave Me Alone," Imbruglia adopts a stirring late night jazzy sway with slowly bobbing bass hits, nervous strings and the occasional eerie touch of a vibraphone.

In "Smoke" she sings in a slow echoing dream state above a drum machine and piano bed that moves into Lisa Loeb territory in its plaintive chorus. And on "Pigeons and Crumbs" an ambient danceclub keyboard line pervades the backdrop as Imbruglia sings with sweet solace over the top. There are some slow points, and its constant strayings into Morissette's signature sound lose it points for originality, but overall, this is a great little pop rock record. If this is left of the middle, then the middle needs to move to the left. Imbruglia's debut is right on target.


Love Nut
(Big Deal)

Big Deal Records seems to have snatched up every Beatlesque power pop band on the planet. Every time I review one of their releases I have to drag out the Fab Four references. While Baltimucho (which Beatles fans will quickly recognize takes its name from The Beatles' wacky cover of "Besame Mucho") cranks off with a fret-jumping punk pop distortion jam in the 1:15 minutes long "Bob Pine," their true nature comes out in the next track. "Love Found You" opens with the deep pounding drums of an old Off Broadway song, the garage-rock riffing of early Cheap Trick and the nasal-harmonies copped right off a handful of albums by that early '60s Liverpool band. It's a great mix and a hit single waiting to happen.

"Stolen Picture" follows in a similar sing-song crunch-rock vein before the band drops in the requisite ballad. "If You Go Away" opens with marshall drums and a Bic lighter-swaying rhythm as the band harmonize in achingly familiar tones and the dual guitars chime in a homage to power pop hits gone by. Ed Stasium (who's worked before with power popsters The Smithereens), produced Baltimucho, which shows the benefits of his skills in its slick presentation of big guitar sounds that don't overpower the simple melodic beauty of the songs. While many of the tracks come across like a Beatles cover band that decided to write their own stuff (hey, that's not bad, sounds kinda like...) there are a couple of really sharp original moments here, mostly stacked at the front end of the disc. If you've a penchant for Red Kross, Cheap Trick, Enuff Z'nuff, and ...those English might want to search this out for a listen.


Jimmy Ray
Jimmy Ray

A few years ago, George Michael rediscovered the Bo Diddley beat and reprocessed it for the masses in "Faith." Well, that beat's still got hit potential and fellow English newcomer Jimmy Ray packages it nicely on his signature song, "Are You Jimmy Ray" a hand jivin' bit of mistaken identity play ("Are you Johnny Ray/Are you Slim Ray...Are you Stingray?/Are you Link Raye...Are you Fay Wray?" a chorus asks him, repeatedly missing his real identity.

Ray quotes Bow Wow Wow's "Go Wild in the Country" among more classic songs on the horn poppin' "Goin' To Vegas" ("hey, ho, where ya gonna go?") The whole disc is a mix of hand jive Bo Diddley with a pretty boy singer (nice pompadour) and a touch of high tech studio glamour. It's catchy, bouncy and a complete lightweight when it comes to lyrical depth. Asking Jimmy Ray's name is the most searching question this album asks; the rest of the time it's just happy strummin' music, some electric drums and the occasional lapse of Blow Monkeys-influenced blue soul.

"Sex For Beginners" opens with a raw picked delta guitar that almost sounds authentic before the horns, mincing piano and faux Andrews Sisters backgrounds lollygag on in for a weird mix of '30s sass, '50s blues and swaggering '90s sex-as-a-dance-step-machismo. Lightweight yes, but Ray's modernization of '50s American rockabilly is as much fun as watching your friends rollick through a classic rock Karaoke song.

Strange, but true.


New On The Shelves:

The soundtrack to the movie Zero Effect, on Work/Sony Records listens like a sampler for the current Work artist roster. The disc offers songs taken from the current albums of Work artists like Dan Bern, Bond, Mary Lou Lord and Esthero. Also included are Elvis Costello's "Mystery Dance," "Into My Arms" from Nick Cave's last album and a track from Jamiroquai...if you want (but can't afford) to have a dance DJ at your party for those seamless mixes that move from song to song without slowing the beat, Rhino Records, in cooperation with VH1, may have the disc for you. Non-Stop Dance starts with Jody Watley, Taylor Dayne and Cathy Dennis and seques Everything But The Girl's "Missing" with Paula Abdul's "Cold Hearted" and then moves into Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy." Also included are Nicki French's version of "Total Eclipse of the Heart," Robin S's "Show Me Love" and RuPaul's "Supermodel (You Better Work)."