mercredi, avril 20, 2005

New Garbage

Garbage : Bleed Like Me

Originally released: 2005 Universal Music Group

Garbage have been making smart hard-pop records about desire and disaster, breaking up and starting over, for precisely a decade. It does not come easy for them. Bleed Like Me is only their fourth album in those ten years -- their first since 2001's Beautifulgarbage -- and making it was nearly the end of them. Early fractious sessions ground to a halt when drummer-guitarist Butch Vig -- a celebrity in his own right for his Nineties production work with Nirvana, Sonic Youth and Smashing Pumpkins -- quit the group, effectively killing it.

He returned four months later and Garbage went back to work. This is the result: the first Garbage album that sounds as if Vig, guitarists-keysmen Duke Erikson and Steve Marker, and Scottish vocal fireball Shirley Manson truly know what they're writing, singing and raging about. "I've held back a wealth of shit/I think I'm gonna choke," Manson snaps in "Why Do You Love Me," a high-speed bouquet of rusted-razor-blade guitars. She can smell her own blood on these tracks. You hear it in high, vicious fidelity.

"Bad Boyfriend" opens the record like a honeyed chunk of Blondie wrapped in thick, serrated layers of Deep Purple: big guitars; even bigger drums courtesy of Dave Grohl, modern rock's own John Bonham; punchy-sax-section electronics that give you an idea of how Nirvana's Nevermind would have sounded if Vig had let loose his inner Phil Spector. Manson plays the predatory coquette with breathy relish ("I know some tricks I swear will give you the bends"). But she is under no illusions about the high price of guilt-free pleasure. Manson has surrendered to the inevitable betrayal around the corner before the song is even over: "If you can't love me, honey/Go on, just pretend." Three minutes into the album and the bad news is already in your face: When you want something in the worst way, that is surely how you will get it.

The first two-thirds of Bleed Like Me is easily the best sustained run of studio Garbage since the opening half of their 1995 debut. The density and detail of the charging guitars in "Bad Boyfriend," "Right Between the Eyes" and "Why Do You Love Me" make you wonder if, in another life, Vig, Marker and Erikson were all members of Blue Oyster Cult. They are certainly old enough in this life to know the original New Wave firsthand, so it comes as no surprise that in "Run Baby Run," Garbage do 1982 better and fresher than revival puppies like Kasabian and Bloc Party. Surrounded by a black forest of power-chord distortion, Manson pleads and prays like Deborah Harry atop a bouncing, throaty guitar riff that New Order would envy. Later, Manson shows off her deep affection for Patti Smith in the synth-pop frost of "Metal Heart," fronting the corrosion with a fight and aplomb that prove one doesn't have to sing through scabrous distortion -- take note, Marilyn Manson and Trent Reznor -- to mix pain and machines.

A sameness -- a feeling of roaring in circles -- creeps in toward the end of the record, as if the drama and drain of cracking up and coming together again left Garbage without enough strength, time or songs to maintain the high, shrill thrills upfront. But whatever the four of them went through to get this far, it was worth it just for the title track: a haunting spin on Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side," except this time everyone keeps falling over. Set in a grassy bed of acoustic guitar, dotted with Sgt. Pepper-esque splashes of Mellotron and mariachi-funeral brass, "Bleed Like Me" is a roll call of the sick, addicted and suicidal - Avalanche the anorexic; Chrissie, the boy who may be a girl -- sung by Manson in a cracked whisper that at times eerily sounds like Courtney Love (before she became a regular on Court TV). Manson spares no love or detail for the victims here -- and that ultimately includes herself. "You should see my scars," she sings with chilling sweetness in the bridge. You'll find it hard to look away.

DAVID FRICKE, Rolling Stone (Posted Apr 21, 2005)

Track List

1 Bad Boyfriend

2 Run Baby Run

3 Right Between The Eyes

4 Why Do You Love Me

5 Bleed Like Me

6 Metal Heart

7 Sex Is Not The Enemy

8 It's All Over But The Crying

9 Boys Wanna Fight

10 Why Don't You Come Over

11 Happy Home

Garbage Score Biggest Debut of Career

by Paul Cashmere, 22 April 2005

The Garbage album 'Bleed Like Me' has become their fastest selling album ever.

'Bleed Like Me' entered the US chart at No. 4, making it their highest ever debut.

The video for the first single 'Why Do You Love Me' was directed by Sophie Mueller, who has also worked with The Killers (Mr Brightside), Maroon 5 (She Will Be Loved), Coldplay (In My Place) and Radiohead (I Might Be Wrong).

Mueller also directed Garbage's 'When I Grow Up' and 'The Trick Is To Keep Breathing' in 1999.

She is currently working the post-production for the next Garbage clip, the title track to 'Bleed Like Me'.

The Garbage North American tour starts in Washington on April 21.

Dates are:

April 21 Washington DC 9:30 Club
April 24 Montreal QC Metropolis
April 25 Toronto, ON Kool Haus
April 27 Detroit, MI State Theatre
April 28 Milwaukee, WI The Rave/Eagles Club
April 29 Minneapolis, MN First Avenue
May 1 Madison, WI Orpheum Theatre
May 4 Chicago, IL Metro/Smart Bar
May 6 Nashville, TN Ryman Auditorium
May 7 Covington, KY Madison Theatre
May 9 Columbus, OH Newport Music Hall
May 10 Cleveland, OH Agora Theatre
May 14 Baltimore, MD WHFStival
May 15 Philadelphia, PA Feztival

vendredi, avril 15, 2005

Le Tigre...

Grrrls On The Run!

The date: 15th April 2005, Tom Edwards

Moving from strength to strength (they even have videos on MTV2 these days!) and longsince expanded from the insular Olympia, Washington scene, feminist punk-rock-cum-electro-pop threesome Le Tigre are currently sitting backstage at the Bristol Fleece & Firkin preparing for a show that will make their fans dance like the truest of crazies. With support from the mighty Gravy Train!!!! – a band whose idea of ‘a Bez’ is a male stripper who swings, Tarzan-like, from tabletop to tabletop trying, with some success, to seduce as many cute indie boyz as possible along the way – this tour was never gonna be one to let slip by. After a quick trip to the WC, where the ‘Train somehow manage to rope me into having my picture taken with them whilst standing at the urinal, I escape to the dressing room and into the company of the night’s three leading ladies.

How is being on a major label treating you?

Jo: So far, in terms of the way we function as a band, the things we do, it hasn’t changed that much. In a lot of ways it still feels very DIY in the sense that we’re still making decisions and it didn’t change making the record at all because we made it before we got the deal.

So you made the record before you signed?

J: We did a good amount of final mixes after we had the deal. JD: But we’d completely done the writing, the production. J: So the stuff that has changed is stuff external to the band. Efficiency and business.

Do you have as much control over that side of things as you have enjoyed previously?

J: Well there was nothing like that before, we never really did have any marketing, anything like that. It was really just doing interviews. It’s not like there was some kind of marketing campaign to approve of. I think what’s nice is getting to cities and seeing that there’s posters up for our shows (laughs). JD: And in terms of marketing and stuff like that, you’d be surprised how much of the Universal team are total freaks or queers or whatever and they definitely are marketing to our fans, which was something we were excited to see. It’s not like the people working there are all guys in suits. The people who we talk to are actually really cool.

What made you choose to sign to a major this time? [Former label] Mr Lady aren’t releasing records any more are they?

Kathleen: They decided not to put out any more records, so that was our hint to go somewhere else. So we started looking at all different kinds of labels, along with us deciding to experiment with getting our music in the mainstream and to see what kind of feminist following we could find. I think also we were using ProTools which really lends itself to pop music structure. So we decided to try it, but at the same time we also started our own independent record label and put out our back catalogue on that. We definitely have feet in both doors.

How has your audience changed since your popularity has grown?

JD: I think we’re getting a lot of younger kids, a lot of younger girls and younger poor kids. That’s really exciting because what we set out to do by going to a major label was to see how many more people in our community there were that just didn’t know about us. The vibe has really stayed the same, and yeah it seems that there are a couple more men, but they’re really nice guys. J: I think sometimes it’s like there’s still alternative people, but maybe people who hadn’t heard about our bands, like I see some goth kids in the crowd sometimes. Or there’s always the random gay guy with dreadlocks, or people you wouldn’t typically associate with our band, but that have found out about us and that’s really cool.

Presumably you watched the elections, obviously it didn’t turn out quite as well as it seemed to be going at the beginning. What’s the atmosphere like post-election?

J: I actually just heard from some friends of mine… you know it was the anniversary of the war on Iraq? And there was supposed to be a big protest in New York, but I guess not many people showed up, which was depressing news. But I think that it’ll take a while. It’s not like people are going to bounce back immediately. Progressive people really put there hearts into getting Bush out of office. I don’t think anyone’s giving up the struggle…

What do you think of the way the war’s going? Obviously everyone said it was all over two years ago, but there have been more casualties since then.

K: We don’t even really hear about the casualties of people who aren’t American. They don’t tell us, like the only people who matter are Americans. I don’t even think the casualty numbers for Americans are correct. We passed a thousand, but I bet we passed that a long time ago.

So you don’t think general people on the street know what’s going on? Do you think they really want to know?

K: Well you have to go out of your way to get real news, you have to go on the internet to specialist sites. It’s hard to read stuff off the computer for me, personally. And some people can’t even afford computers. And you have to spend all this time trying to find out what’s really going on, but most people are working more than eight hours a day. They go home and they’re not even really off work, they still get phone calls the whole entire time they’re at home. People who have kids. There’s no decent healthcare in our country, you have to pay for it yourself. No one has any time. I feel really embarassed to come from a country where people are so blatantly lied to and don’t seem to care and still vote for somebody who’s so against everyone’s best interests. But at the same time how can you fault people for being poor and being busy? Even the middle classes are totally shrinking in the United States.

One thing I found quite interesting recently was the Martha Stewart debacle. We haven’t really heard anything about it over here…

K: There’s a rumour that she got put in prison when she did for doing something very minimal, like insider trading that tons of people do, for like $40,000 dollars, which is nothing, especially compared how much she’s worth. And there was speculation that the reason is because the elections were coming up and she gives quite a lot of money to the Democratic party. So they wanted to tie up all of her money. J: Oh that’s interesting. K: Yeah, it happened right after she gave a bunch of money to the Democratic National Commity. J: I mean I knew that she was tried for $40.000, but compared to what has been going on in the United States in terms of insider trading and government corruption, war profiteering… K: I mean the Vice President was the CEO of Halliburton, which is supposedly rebuilding after a war, and if that’s not insider trading… and then you’re sending Martha Stewart to jail! But she’s gonna bounce back stronger than ever. JD: I heard that she stole spices from the kitchen in jail (all laugh). K: They should probably execute her for that (laughs).

So she’s like a professional chef?

K: She’s like Jamie Oliver or Nigella Lawson. She’s totally like Nigella Lawson, but not as sexy. J: It’s like décor and crafts… K: But she built her empire out of nothing. JD: It’s more like she’s a business person. J: She’s like Jay Z. All: Yeah (laughs). K: I just read this really funny article that she got out of jail and decided to make her Martha Stewart home magazine and TV show more for people with lower incomes, because when she was in jail she met all these people who were poor. I thought that was really funny (laughs). Like the first time she met someone who was poor and then said, “oh,” which is kind of rad, but it’s also kind of hilarious. JD: She was poor when she grew up though. K: Oh, really? JD: Yeah, she didn’t grow up wealthy that’s part of the reason why she’s so into never letting anything go to waste. K: Oh, I didn’t even realise. From the article, they were kinda making fun of her.

Looking back, what kind of impact do you think Riot Grrrl has had on music?

K: Well it says Ladyfest ’03 right up there on the wall. To me that means it was a success. There are still women organising things and a lot of the woman who interviewed me for fanzines 10 years ago are now interviewing me for Spin magazine and Rolling Stone. It’s nice that there’s smart people, women or men, that are journalists, it makes it easier to be in a band, you know? And I think if there’s feminist journalists around it definitely makes it easier for a feminist band to exist. And I think that’s something that Riot Grrrl had a big a hand in doing. A lot of people who were involved back then are now promoteres and writers and still doing stuff like setting up Ladyfests. I feel like it has had more of an influence on audiences than it really has in terms of music. I wish that there could be more good music. I felt like Bis was actually really influenced by Huggy Bear and that was a cool lineage and it would be nice to see that keep going on where people take bits of what I think is the better music that came from that time period and build on it. But I think the fact that more women and more gay kids in general are coming to shows is one of the biggest contributions that it has made. Just that people who typically are left out of pop culture and underground culture were invited back. There were brief moments in the ’70s and early ’80s, especially in England with X-Ray Spex and The Slits and The Raincoats, bands that were more popular over here, where people who typically weren’t included were included and I think that Riot Grrrl invited those people back in and they’re still going to our shows.

Hey, it’s time to go dance…

jeudi, avril 14, 2005

Frank Zappa's treasure house

Gail Zappa has a hoard of music that could fill a hundred albums - and she hopes to release it, bit by bit, writes Germaine Greer

Germaine Greer

Thursday April 14, 2005, Guardian

I met Frank Zappa in 1973, I think it must have been, over breakfast in Hernando's Hideaway, the coffee shop of the Beverly Wilshire hotel, where he and his wife Gail were staying while their house in Laurel Canyon was redecorated. Their attention was drawn to me because of the staccato rustling of the rice-paper of my airmail copy of the Times, and the deep sighs I kept heaving. They asked me what was on my mind, that I sighed so often and so deeply. "My boyfriend in Detroit has just told me that he's got pubic lice. He thinks I gave them to him. I'm worried that the bastard has given them to me." "Not a problem," said Frank. His black Rolls-Royce with tinted windows was waiting in the hotel driveway; in no time we were at Schwob's drugstore, and Frank was yelling over the heads of the would-be Lana Turners twirling on the stools at the counter: "Blue lotion, please, blue lotion for the crabs." The words rang out like a triumphant fanfare.

Gail and Frank were like the only two sane people in that hideous town, which always seemed to me the antechamber of hell. They didn't do Rodeo Drive or the Polo Lounge. They were happy to hang out with each other and their kids. Their kids actually liked them, which, in that madhouse of chaotic kinship and serial divorce, was special to say the least. Frank spent as much time as possible, which wasn't enough, in his studio under the house, making electronic music. And once or twice he played stuff back for me, stuff that I absolutely did not understand. I said nothing intelligent about it, but nothing stupid either, I hope. Now I'm sorry that I didn't listen harder and ask more questions. Now I've got to play catchup and try to find more of Frank's "serious" music. It's not easy. I just paid a fortune to download the Rykodisc releases from the internet, but my operating system wasn't up to it, and all I got for my money was the titles of the files.

I came to rock'n'roll late, via rhythm and blues. I was never all that convinced by the posturings of the top earners with their lip service to the anti-war movement and the counter culture. I knew the Fugs long before I knew Zappa, and listened to his music in the same spirit, seeing it as an ironic, sometimes savagely satirical version of mass culture. I almost certainly imagined him to be a lot more radical than he was; I never doubted that he took drugs - which he didn't - and I thought he probably helped himself to the heaps of groupies that were lying around - he didn't. He loved his wife and the children he had with her too much for that. Where he was radical, and this I didn't get, was in his music. All the touring and recording was to finance his composing. What seemed to me to be satire was indeed disabused pastiche. He was doing it and doubting it at the same time.

I loved the way Frank looked, with his narrow, long head, his intelligent eyes, and the Dionysiac curve of his grin, emphasised by his jet black moustache and beard, and the surrounding cloud of floating blue-black ringlets. He was proud to look so exotic because it was a visible acknowledgment of his Italian and Sicilian forebears. What was more, it brought out the worst in people.

I had loads of his commercial albums, Weasels Ripped My Flesh, Hot Rats, Burnt Weeny Sandwich, Just Another Band From LA, Ruben and the Jets, We're Only In It For the Money, Lumpy Gravy. They weren't really all that commercial. Frank was never in the really big money. I fancy all his spare cash went in expensive collaborations with orchestras, and in developing the studio where he laid down track after track, doodling on his synclavier. I didn't know the half of it. Already in the late 1960s he was working with Jean-Luc Ponty on the King Kong music. I didn't know about his concerts in celebration of the work of Edgar Varèse; nor did I know that he has been a fan of Varèse ever since he was a schoolboy. He conducted memorial concerts for Varèse in New York and San Francisco; in 1993, four months before his death, Frank conducted the Ensemble Modern in a full programme of Varèse. The Ensemble Modern also recorded an album of Zappa's compositions called The Yellow Shark. Four months later Frank was dead.

I've come back to Frank's music through being involved with the small but perfectly formed Britten Sinfonia, who occasionally include Zappa pieces in their repertoire. Modern classical music, which I thought was a dire cacophony 30 years ago, is now becoming legible to me, partly because for the first time I am hearing it properly played, so that the musical structures are at last standing free and clear. I'm at the point where I could really understand the Zappa project, even though music scholars are now using rather chilling rhetoric to describe his big-note theory and his maximal aesthetic. In Frank's world, every sound had a value, and every action was part of the universal diapason, a colossal vibration that made energy rather than reflecting it. I'm grown up enough now to get it, but the bulk of Frank's music is still unheard and likely to remain unhearable.

Gail Zappa is now in control of the treasure house that I glimpsed all those years ago. She is anxious that Frank's legacy not be adulterated or exploited in the wrong way, and so far access to his compositions has been strictly limited. She hopes to bring out as many as a hundred albums on a new record label, Vaulternative Records, produced by Dweezil Zappa. Master tapes finished by Frank already exist for many of them. Meantime we have to make do with small masterpieces that have somehow escaped from the vault, such as G-spot Tornado, which I want played at my funeral. There are two versions extant, one by the Ensemble Modern at breakneck speed and one by the Britten Sinfonia at half the pace. The Britten Sinfonia performance is sexier and more ironic but Frank probably had more to do with the earlier performance. As things stand at the moment, Gail will probably veto any performance of the work done either way.

The piece reminds me how Frank could inject excitement into the most mundane occasion. Once at the supermarket, Frank was sauntering along behind as we two women pushed our trolleys and minded our own business. He was fetchingly clad in a violent turquoise coloured cat-suit which was unzipped to below the navel, showing a plentiful growth of silky black hair with no sign of underwear. A pair of shoppers became fascinated by this spectacle and began following him about, the woman tittering and making loud comments. Frank stood it as long as he could, and then turned to her and roared: "Eat! My! Shit!" She went white with shock. Her male companion, who weighed four times as much as Frank, threw a punch at him. Frank stepped back out of range, unfazed. He eventually talked his way out of trouble, but it took a while. Eccentricity amid conformity was the name of Frank's game; in Beverly Hills in the 1970s, eccentricity could be downright dangerous.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

lundi, avril 11, 2005

Razorlight: At the sharp end

The end seemed nigh for Razorlight after their American débâcle. But Alexia Loundras joins a reinvigorated band on tour

Published : 08 April 2005

Since bursting on to the scene last year, Razorlight have been a car-crash waiting to happen. The four-piece had hardly released their first single when tales of their Gallagher-esque sparring started to appear in the music press. In interviews, the front man, songwriter and creative linchpin, Johnny Borrell, spared no breath in extolling his songwriting genius. But he didn't seem quite so keen on the bandmates he had recruited through NME advertisements, even claiming he could no longer stand the sight of his Swedish band mates, the guitarist Bjorn Agren and the bassist Carl Dalemo. Further interviews revealed that the feeling was increasingly mutual.

The spiky, visceral, Clash-meets-Patti Smith songs of Razorlight's excellent debut, Up All Night and their incendiary live shows did, rightly, win them a sizeable army of fervent fans. But, like Borrell's pals, The Libertines, Razorlight's mouthy antics were soon getting more attention than their songs. Encouraged by the music press, Borrell played up to the role of the cocky rock star and forever painted a picture of a band on the cusp of self-destruction even though, at the start of the year, things for Razorlight were beginning to shape up nicely. As well as a profile-building US jaunt they had sold out their biggest UK tour to date and written the longing and super-catchy "Somewhere Else" which, they'd releasing as a standalone single. But then, in January, while playing a show in Denver, the band's simmering tensions came to a head.

Five songs into the set Borrell stormed off stage. When interviewed afterwards, shorn of bravado, he seemed deeply unhappy and said he felt like killing himself. After just one more American show, the band pulled their remaining US dates and postponed their UK tour. The Razorlight camp insisted Borrell was suffering from laryngitis, but this sounded like a cover-up, and observers speculated that Razorlight's end was imminent.

But, if that was meant to be the end of the story, nobody told Razorlight. After three weeks off - "sick time" - a visibly invigorated Borrell corrects - I'm invited to see the band make their live comeback at a fans-only secret gig at the band's Acton rehearsal space.

Backstage, the atmosphere is relaxed. Agren chats about books with his manager - the guitarist spent his time off scouring thrift shops for classics. Meanwhile, Dalemo drinks Stella with the Razorlight crew. He's joined by drummer Andy Burrows, recruited last May after the original skins-man, Christian Smith-Pancorvo, saw his relationship with Borrell disintegrate. Borrell, though, is preparing for the gig alone, and a bowl of steaming water is rushed through to him. "It's for Johnny's voice," explains Dalemo. "Orders from his singing teacher. She's the only woman Johnny's scared of." Since Denver, Borrell has acquired a vocal coach to help him ease his strained chords. "She is the boss," agrees Borrell with mock fear, later, before explaining that inhaling the steam is good for the "back folds" of his voice box - problems with which, he insists, really did cause the US tour's cancellation.

Once the show begins, it's clear the advice - and the time off - have made a difference. Borrell is in excellent voice and great spirits. The singer is enjoying his return to the stage so much that the prepared seven-song set is quickly scrapped in favour of requests, the last half of which he delivers solo with an acoustic guitar. After 15 songs he finally retires, looking as ecstatic as the diehard crowd. But Borrell's not gone for long - five minutes later he's back to mingle. "I'd happily have played every song I've ever written," he beams to one fan.

But, though Borrell is thrilled with the gig, all is still not peachy in the Razorlight camp. Upstairs, Dalemo is in a huff. Apparently Borrell's decision to play the latter half solo hasn't exactly thrilled his bandmate. It's been a hugely positive occasion, but this is still Razorlight and the tensions are still there. It still remains to be seen whether the band can keep it together through the upcoming tour.

Ten days and six shows later, it seems more and more like that they can. The band play the first of two shows at Alexandra Palace, their biggest venue to date - just a stone's throw from where Borrell grew up. "This is our Earls Court!" grins Borrell. It's clear they want to prove themselves tonight, because Borrell, shielded behind sunglasses, joins the others for an extremely rare soundcheck appearance.

Even without an audience to spur them on, Razorlight sound impeccably tight. More to the point, they look tight. Perhaps brought together by the coming thrill of playing to 16,000 punters in the next 48 hours, they actually look like - get this - mates. They playfully swap their instruments, play Blur's "Parklife" (presumably in reverence to the band's famous performance here) and air a new song - the self-mocking "The World Revolves Around Razorlight" which, Borrell says, they wrote together (yes, together!) while travelling on the tour bus.

Backstage with an hour until the doors open, Borrell coolly insists tonight's show is no different to any other. But, as he fusses about his voice, he's not remotely convincing: "I am worried it's a bit husky," he says, "Feels like I have a cold potato lump in my throat." When he later takes to the stage his nerves are obvious but they seem to up his intensity. Midway through the set, his nerves forgotten, he stands shirtless like a lithe young Iggy Pop, dripping with sweat. Around him, Agren plays his guitar like a master, standing coolly at Borrell's side while Dalemo leaps about like a mischievous spring lamb. Afterwards, Razorlight are clearly buzzing. The aftershow party is packed with the band's mates and Borrell flits about like a hyperactive bumble bee. "Last time I was here, it was to see Blur play," says the friendly Burrows. "And now we've played it! I kept freaking out in the middle of drum-beats thinking how many of my schoolfriends were out there!"

The following night, without the first-night nerves, is even better. To their immense excitement they have an unexpected visitor. "Noel Gallagher was watching us from the side of the stage!" Burrows says, wide-eyed, when it's all over. "When Carl told me mid-set, I nearly dropped my sticks." "And," Dalemo adds, a gorge of a grin breaking his icy Scandinavian looks, "he said to me, 'I've met you before, you know!'"

As their biggest tour ends, Razorlight have achieved what they set out to do. With their electrified and assured performances they've not just proved the doom-sayers wrong, they've forced the attention back where it should be - onto their music. "With this tour, we wanted to prove there was nothing wrong with our band," says Dalemo. And that's exactly what they've done.

A few days later we meet up again at the launch of Bob Geldof and Richard Curtis's Make Poverty History campaign in a Soho cinema. I'm due a rare interview with all four members of Razorlight together. But as soon as the pictures are taken, Borrell is off in a black cab.

"We've gotten used to doing things without Johnny," says Burrows brightly, sipping a lunchtime pint in a nearby Soho pub. "You probably won't see us hanging out together," he continues. "We're not really that kind of band. None of us joined Razorlight looking for friends. But having said that, these days we are actually much closer than it looks."

It appears that, far from delivering the final blow to their fractured nucleus, the Denver show offered the others a window into Borrell's mind, inadvertently bringing Razorlight's separate factions together. "After Johnny walked off, the first thing I wanted to do was smash my guitar to pieces," says Agren. "The second thing I felt like doing was ripping Johnny's head off. But then I thought, no. You'll never get the truth out of Johnny about what happened to him there. But it doesn't matter. It was a human reaction to whatever - a combination of tiredness, pressure, drink, loneliness, missing home and probably a million things we don't even know about. I knew he wouldn't have done what he did unless the way he was feeling was serious." "He was wasted," adds Burrows, "but we saw he was just as scared of failing as everyone else."

I catch up with Borrell at Channel 4's studios. He's warming up for a solo acoustic performance. He apologises for this morning's escape, explaining that he's producing a Razorlight fanzine to be distributed on the upcoming US tour and, having interviewed Burrows at the pub the night before (the two have grown particularly friendly), he had a deadline. Smiling and relaxed, he's in what Burrows describes as "good Johnny mode", and records the song in half the time it takes to do his hair and make up.

Borrell looks tired, yet he's genial and unguarded - a world away from the mouthy, swaggering rock star that I met last year. His experience in Denver seems to have changed him. "I didn't want to be in Colorado. I wished I could be somewhere else," he says, with a deliberate nod to the new single. Despite his bandmates' theories, Borrell claims it was "surface pressures, not the pressures of the world," that caused him to crack. "I couldn't spend my time with the band and crew in a small enclosed space, I just couldn't - it was torture." Borrell sought relief in alcohol and after three days of drinking, he says: "You're not so much playing gig as playing your demons."

"I'd become a monster," he says. "If I had been there, I would have pulled me right back onto that stage, but I wasn't." He shakes his head. "I'm surprised no one from the band came to have a word with me." It's probably a good job they didn't. Their tour manager - the only person who spoke to Borrell that night - was told in no uncertain terms where to get off.

It's still unlikely that you'll catch Razorlight hanging out together, but Borrell is grateful for the understanding his bandmates showed him and he believes they have become closer as a band. As we pull up beside MTV, Borrell spots the rest of his band and raps cheerily on the window. "If I could photo-fit the perfect band, it would look exactly like the one I've got," he says beaming, though this being Borrell he adds: "though I would get rid of Bjorn's neck-ties. We're like a football team. We've gone from banging them in for the reserves to playing in the Premiership. We had a wobble, but now we need to keep proving ourselves on every level. And really I think we can." More than ever, you believe him.

The single 'Somewhere Else' is out on Monday on Vertigo

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

dimanche, avril 10, 2005


Album: Garbage. Bleed Like Me, WARNER BROS

By Andy Gill

Published : 08 April 2005

"It may not last, but we'll have fun till it ends/ C'mon baby, be my bad boyfriend," Shirley Manson sings on "Bad Boyfriend", the opening track of this, Garbage's difficult fourth album. It could serve as a motto for the record as a whole and, indeed, for the band itself, which apparently broke up early on in the recording process, only reuniting when the drummer Butch Vig felt invigorated enough by the material to carry on. One suspects this is crunch time for Garbage, the group's continued existence probably dependent on the performance of Bleed Like Me.

It's just as well, then, that this is a much more assured set than the lacklustre Beautiful Garbage, which also suffered from the deflated interest accorded to most entertainment product unfortunate enough to be released just as the September 11 attacks were taking place. They've clearly spent more time writing decent hooks for tracks like "Bad Boyfriend, "Run Baby Run" and the single "Why Do You Love Me", and they also seem to have acquired a firmer grasp of the imperatives of being a proper rock band, rather than a studio project: the riffs are bigger, brasher and louder than before, with Duke Erikson and Steve Marker's declamatory slashes of guitar surrounding Manson's voice like burly bodyguards muscling their diva through a press of bodies.

For her part, Manson turns on the perverse charm that initially set her apart, playing up to her distinctive, slightly dangerous appeal. "I am not as pretty as those girls in magazines/ I am rotten to the core, if they are to be believed," she sings in "Why Do You Love Me", while elsewhere celebrating a sour cocktail of eating disorders, gender confusion and self-harming in "Bleed Like Me", with its invitation that "You should see my scars". But there's never a murmur of regret, even when resigned to the split covered in "It's All Over But the Crying"; instead, she offers a siren call to pleasurable excess in the New-Wave-y "Why Don't You Come Over", and proclaims a sort of principled promiscuity in "Sex Is Not the Enemy", asserting, "I won't feel dirty, and buy into their misery". As she notes in "Happy Home", "I never once in my sweet life was waiting for desire".

The band's new, streamlined approach involves fewer loops and samples than on previous albums - but, oddly, in places it sounds even more synthetic. It recalls the programmatic heavy-rock style of the Foo Fighters and especially the "robot-rock" mode favoured by Queens of the Stone Age, with the guitar riffs landing like neatly hewn blocks of granite. Compared to the looser, raunchier swagger of earlier rock bands such as the Stones, The Faces, the Pistols and even Led Zep, it seems a touch formal, but there's no denying its concentrated power.

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

vendredi, avril 08, 2005

The Counterfeit Stones

Gonna live for ever

No, it's not Mick'n'Keef treading the boards in Chelmsford; it's The Counterfeit Stones paying tribute

By Chris Mugan
Published : 08 April 2005

The Stones recently kicked off their new tour at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford. No, this is not a joke. It happened to be the first leg of the latest jaunt by one of the groups that make a living from playing the music of The Rolling Stones.

So successful are The Counterfeit Stones that one member, Steve "Nick Dagger" Elson, has taken on the job full time, while his compadres treat the band as their first income. They make up any shortfall by teaching guitar or writing for music magazines. Elson takes charge of publicity, a role that includes the direction of the video skits played at the gig as the band carry out their several costume changes.

These films show the Counterfeits in Stella-Street-meets-Spinal-Tap sketches that reprise (in)famous moments from the past of The World's Greatest Rock'n'Roll Band: the Redlands drugs raid, the Hyde Park gig and - new for this tour - the Stones' surly demeanour on Jukebox Jury, which, in its mild way, infuriated respectable England as much as The Sex Pistols' run-in with Bill Grundy.

The Counterfeits form a neat example of how tribute bands have become entrenched in British entertainment. Along with many such acts, they emerged at the beginning of the Nineties to cash in on the baby-boomer market for the classic rock of the previous two decades. They played pubs and rock clubs to crowds usually composed of middle-aged men.

One inspiration was a band formed in 1980 that had performed in the successful West End production of the Broadway musical Beatlemania. The Bootleg Beatles showed the way for other people, musicians and performers such as Steve Elson.

In a career that had already spanned 30 years, he had worked as a plugger, booker, promoter, session musician and in production, but then a new order seemed to establish itself. "When dance music took off, my production gigs dried up, so I put the band together. We were based around West London, where the Stones used to play, and we were all fans," Elson explains.

The Counterfeits were an instant success. A natural raconteur, Elson injected a sliver of humour into the act, with sly references to Mick Jagger's vanity or Keith Richards's drug intake. Bill Wyman had earned a reputation for pursuing young girls, so the counterfeit version became Bill Hymen..

"While the Beatles were always treated with a certain reverence, the Stones were seen more as cheeky chappies," says Elson. "They annoyed my mum and dad with their surly look, but they never fooled me. That attitude of has always been a bit of a joke."

Along with other bands, the Bootlegs and Counterfeits made a decent living, but it could only be described as comfortable when they made the step up from pubs to theatre venues. Now the production values could rise to include the costume changes that allowed groups to portray different eras of a band's existence, so the Bootlegs could sing "Please Please Me" in sharp suits, don psychedelic uniforms for "Penny Lane", then pull out kaftans for "All You Needs Is Love".

They were the first band to make the leap to theatres in 1990, but Elson attests that the circuit only became established with the arrival of the Abba revivalists Bjorn Again. This four-piece expanded the audience for tribute acts. "Now people didn't just come for the music, they wanted a laugh as well. Abba were seen as a joke, but Bjorn Again made it very kitsch, so people would go along in platforms."

While The Beatles and Stones were cool, it was still social death to express fondness for Sweden's contribution to pop music. Bjorn Again performed with a knowing irreverence that concentrated as much on intra-band relationships as songs and dance moves. With a show that was as much about entertainment as musicianship, the group opened up the idea of tribute acts to people more interested in fun than revival.

This was not just a matter of luck, for Bjork Again had developed their act in the latter half of the Eighties in Australia. The southern hemisphere received few tours, and they only took in a tiny selection of venues, especially given the size of Oz, so tribute bands there had a captive audience. In the wake of Bjorn Again, The Australian Doors and Australian Pink Floyd managed to fill proper rock venues rather than pubs.

Overnight, an industry was born, and agents began to search for local bands to match the acts imported from Down Under. One grunge tribute from Chichester even called themselves the Australian Nirvana just to make themselves sound good.

Arguably, one of the biggest tribute acts was another bunch of Fab Four copyists, and it is no surprise that the tribute phenomenon peaked in the mid-Nineties. This was when the Bootlegs supported Oasis at Earls Court, while Nowaysis hit the charts with their version of "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing", the song that inspired Oasis's single "Shakermaker". Such mania opened up the European festival circuit to the better UK tribute bands.

Then, last year, a Robbie Williams clone performed in front of 65,000 rugby fans at the Super League grand final at Old Trafford. Matthew Holbrook had been due to fly back from an engagement in Norway that evening, but the promoter was so keen to get in his chosen act that he paid for a new plane ticket.

While such excitement may be rare, there is still a reasonable living to be made. Somewhere this week, an Abba or Blues Brothers tribute is almost bound to put on a show. As Busted become a dim and distant memory, musicians have already memorised the handful of tunes by McFly, while some Robbies can double up as Rat Pack tributes. The market takes in lesser-known acts that tour chain bars such as Chicago Rocks, while more established acts such as the Counterfeits take in student balls, corporate events and theatres - some of which now rely on such bands to bring in packed houses to subsidise their dramatics.

There is a huge irony, though. Tribute bands began as a reaction to synthesised pop and out of a desire to watch people play instruments rather than press "play". Now guitars are dominant once more, a sizeable proportion of the gig-going population still prefers the safe environment of familiar songs and comedy rather than emotional sincerity.

Not that this is a new thing. The arrival of the cabaret singer Tony Christie at the top of both the single and album charts reminds us of a long-standing taste for light entertainment. The difference with tribute acts is that you get kitsch and favourite songs in one package. In that respect, you have never had it so good.

The Counterfeit Stones' 'Bourbon Jungle' tour runs to mid-June

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

Rachael Yamagata

The stories so far

Rachael Yamagata has plenty of tales to tell. It must be all those past lives, she tells Kevin Harley

Published : 08 April 2005

Many people would regard making career decisions according to a tarot reading a somewhat high-risk, space-headed way to proceed. Not, however, the otherwise down-to-earth 27-year-old singer-songwriter Rachael Yamagata.

"I love all the metaphysical things," she says. "They said I'd have an insane year this year and a crazy next seven years. They predicted my separation from my other band, and they've been pretty right-on about certain relationships I've had. They said I was a musician in a past life, and that I was meant to be a songwriter, even if I didn't tell them what I did. And that in this life, it would be easy for me to learn instruments, because it would be about remembering them as opposed to learning for the first time. Just funny things."

Not cranky things, then? "Well," she says, a little sheepishly, "they said that I was a rebel leader who died at 19 in one of my past lives. He got stoned and hung. The woman who did the reading said that when I find myself in front of crowds it would be a bit odd, because I'm going to remember being stoned!"

Rocks? Critics and audiences haven't seen fit to throw any yet, but otherwise, the cards sound right for Yamagata. The US music press has been drumming up a swell of interest in this multi-instrumental mystic of moody music, on the back of support slots to David Gray and Liz Phair, and a richly textured album of part-languid, part-piano-bashing jazz-pop in Happenstance. The fact that some of this has been of a "next Norah Jones/next Fiona Apple" flavour won't do her publicity any harm, but closer reference points would be storytelling singer-songwriters such as Carole King, albeit with added cabaret flourishes and the husky soulfulness of a Jeff Buckley. Like Buckley, Yamagata's dusky vocal pipes sound designed to drawl and growl through late-night laments and itchy-feet confessionals, where the suitcase is always by the door in case a sharp exit is needed.

Indeed, Yamagata is of no fixed abode right now, due to constant touring. Being on the move is something she's used to, though. Her German-Italian mother and Japanese father divorced when she was two, and she lived between them while she switched studies as a "painfully shy" teenager. The "chequered academic career" her press release speaks of took in French at Northwestern University, Italian at Vassar, and then acting classes back in Chicago, from which she was kicked out. Piano lessons proved no less short-lived: she quit to teach herself after her teacher told her to sit still while playing.

The inadvertent teenage drop-out threw her lot in with a Chicago-based electro-funk band called Bumpus from her late teens onwards, graduating from tambourine girl and back-up singer to one of three lead vocalists. Her songwriting took a back seat, though, when her shyness and fear of stoning crashed into some band-members' negative reactions to her songs. "People had this condescending attitude towards them," she says. "That shut me up for five years."

Half a decade down the line, though, it was clear that, even if Yamagata's songs didn't suit Bumpus, she had a calling to pursue. Luckily, and "literally, the next day" after Yamagata left Bumpus, she bumped into a fellow Chicago-based songwriter who she had met years before. He referred her to a talent scout, who recognised the material's worth and had her put together a showcase. It only took Yamagata a year to get signed from there, during which time, the rise of female singer-songwriters such as - yes - Norah Jones gave her a sense of urgency. "I heard her record and thought, this is going to be huge, we have to get mine out quick, because there'll be a wave of women getting signed. Then it just grew and grew."

That wave of women has gone on to include the likes of Jem, Katie Melua, Nellie McKay and more besides, but the comparisons to, say, Jones sit awkwardly. "I think it's limiting," Yamagata says, affably, "just because I have dark hair and play piano. The songs I write are split between guitar and piano, and my show is more rock than hers. I'd be more comfortable being compared to someone like Jeff Buckley or Elton John, who have rich orchestrations. Her thing lulls you, whereas mine is meant to secretly lull you and then smash your head into something."

On Happenstance, the energy that Yamagata puts into peppering her smoky balladry distinguishes her. "It's more interesting for me," she says, "to hear someone compare it to, say, Roberta Flack's 'Ballad of the Sad Young Men'. It's essentially a piano ballad with an emotional lyric, but it does a different thing to it. Or Rickie Lee Jones or Carole King, who I'd say my lyrics are more like than Norah Jones's." She sighs: "I think it's unfortunate, all the comparisons. I'm worried that Fiona Apple is sitting there saying, 'Damn this Rachael Yamagata!'"

Maybe that's where those past-life fears of a stoning now linger. After all, when it came to facing crowds, Yamagata leapt in at the deep end. In keeping with her run of luck, her agent was scouting for a support act for David Gray when Yamagata visited one day. After a debut gig to an audience of 40 on an out-of-tune piano, her next two shows were solo support slots to Gray, the first to a crowd of 4,500 and the second to 18,000 at a sold-out Madison Square Garden. "I'd never played in front of that many people. I was petrified, I didn't wanna go on. And it went great!" she says, brightly.

"I think enough of those experiences have happened to me that I'm not fazed any more. It's probably the little rooms that freak me out now, with about 10 people in them."

Predictions? At the risk of sounding flakier than a high-street mystic, she won't have to worry about the small venues for too long.

Rachael Yamagata plays The Enterprise, London NW3, next Thursday (sold out); 'Happenstance' is out on 9 May on RCA

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

samedi, avril 02, 2005

British Sea Power

Operation Berlin

The militant pastoralists British Sea Power are seeking new horizons with a European jaunt, Alexia Loundras discovers

Published : 01 April 2005

British Sea Power are huddled together on the banks of Berlin's river Spree. Cowering under umbrellas, their eyes are trained on the horizon; their young faces seem to be fixed either with fear or laced with defiance. And their usual pick'n'mix outfits of scratchy wools, rough-knit jumpers and mossy tweeds, plucked from a time c1940, only serve to make them look even more forlorn.

"You look so scared," shouts the delighted German magazine photographer in front of them. "It's so great!" Truth is, the band are actually feeling rather chipper. But, armed with the brollies the snapper has brought them to pose with, the five-piece band - composed of singer Yan, his bass-player brother Hamilton, guitarist Noble, Woody on drums and keyboard player Eamon - have lost no time getting into character: intrepid explorers faced with unspeakable peril.

British Sea Power are in Berlin on an intensive 24-hour promotional jaunt - it's only just gone midday, but the band have already done four interviews and two photoshoots and there's more of the same to come. Later, they'll end the day with a showcase gig to punters and press. It's a wearying schedule, yet the prevailing mood is giddy excitement.

They are promoting their second album, Open Season, the splendid follow-up to 2003's majestic and critically acclaimed debut, The Decline of British Sea Power, but today's buzz has more to do with the album's lead single, "It Ended on an Oily Stage", which hit music stores just a few days earlier. The band have just heard mid-week sales reports are predicting a high chart entry and a lot is riding on the single's success - well, at least £60 anyway. "We placed bets as to where the song will end up," explains Noble. "It makes it all so much more exciting." Guesses range from an optimistic nine, courtesy of Eamon, to a rather more cautious 26, Noble. (Sunday saw the song become the band's biggest hit to date, slipping into the charts at an impressive 18, netting Hamilton the kitty).

The band's high spirits continue into the afternoon. While Eamon and the unfeasibly quiet Woody order a few beers, it falls to Yan, Hamilton and Noble to ingratiate themselves to the German press. For the next two hours they sip water and enthusiastically face the same questions over and over. They cover their genesis, in Yan, Hamilton and Woody's Kendal home: "a popular holiday resort for William Wordsworth, with lots of sheep, mountains and lakes", offers Noble. Their new album: "Where our first record sounded coastal, windswept and bleak, this one feels like a warm forest, a happy valley," says Hamilton. And their take on what makes a good song: "Getting caught up in the moment and keeping it going as long as you can," says Yan.

And there you have it - British Sea Power for the uninitiated, neatly wrapped for easy consumption in three soundbites. Here are five passionate and talented lads whose music pulses with the cinematic grandeur of the Lake District that spawned them. Their songs tell tales of romantic struggles and historical achievements, but it's the nature-lovers' affection for flora and fauna that infects everything about them. And that includes the new album, awash with references to nature, and even boasting an ode to an ill-fated iceberg. Having decamped to Brighton a few years back, every one of British Sea Power would rather lose themselves in the rolling downs near their homes than check out this week's hot new seaside bars.

Indeed, Hamilton actually walked all the way from a pre-Christmas gig in Leeds to his family home in Kendal, wearing just a coat and holey shoes, and armed with a bivouac and a bag of bananas. Really. The journey cut through the Pennines and lasted three days. "I started to worry about him after a while," admits Eamon, "but then I got a text. It said: 'I've just seen a one-legged crow', that's when I knew he was all right." While the rest of the band settle for wearing RSPB badges, Noble is a full card-carrying bird-watcher.

But their genuine and endearing infatuation with natural life - coupled with their penchant for filling every stage they play with leafy branches, stuffed animals and birds, has proved to have a detrimental effect on the band - it's in danger of overshadowing their music. "But this is partly our fault," admits Yan. "We were naive. We had ideas that could never really translate. We called ourselves militant pastoralists, but that backfired completely. Though we talked about it, explained it carefully, we somehow ended up being called eccentric World War Two fetishists. Really, it's not the same thing." Presumably Eamon's First World War fireman's helmet - which for all intents and purposes looks just like a soldier's helmet - didn't help much either.

"We're an educational band," explains Yan. "We've shown that you can be into rock music, read books and take drugs as well - all at the same time, if you want to." Eamon winces at the suggestion. A recent jaunt on to the South Downs while on magic mushrooms resulted in a broken leg and a helicopter rescue for his mate, and a pitch-black ramble home for him. Yan continues: "We're like the Pixies, we write songs about original things. We're a good band and we need to move on."

Drastic measures are called for. "We're losing the stuffed birds," informs Yan. "They've become a millstone around our necks." But old habits die hard, and right on cue, Noble spots a mandarin duck with its rainbow-coloured slicked-back quiff swimming past, and the band excitedly spin round to check it out.

As British Sea Power arrive at this evening's 300-capacity underground venue, the band are beginning to show signs of fatigue. But their good spirits are bolstered by huge German beers, regular games of Hacky Sack and a growing sense of anticipation for the night's post-gig outing - to a place called Dr Pong's, a club based around communal mass games of knockout table tennis.

Working out the set list takes forever, as does the sound check - not least because, admits Yan, the band can't remember how to play most of their new songs. "We just have trouble remembering who plays what," he says, settling himself backstage.

Yet they had no such timing problems when making the new album last year. Far from proving the difficult-second-album theory, Open Season turned out to be a breeze to write and record - possibly because British Sea Power seem to have unlimited ideas, imagination and enthusiasm. Holed up in a converted barn, just near the Long Man of Wilmington (and next door to David Dimbleby, "I don't think he saw us as friends," says Yan. "Apparently we kept him up at night!") British Sea Power felt free to try something different. "We wanted to make a concise, beautiful pop record that had intelligence and warmth," says Yan. "But we also wanted to find a new depth to our songwriting that maybe wasn't there before. And I think we have."

The band are clearly inspired by their new album, and talk of it has certainly perked them up. And soon, pre-gig adrenalin whips them into a minor frenzy. Sipping vodka and Red Bulls, they jump about like boxers warming up for a heavyweight bout. But with 15 minutes to go, their group workout is interrupted by an offer from one of the crew of a back and shoulder massage. Yan's jumper is off in a flash. Ten minutes later he re-emerges wearing a Cheshire grin: "I feel like I've just had a huge spliff on a sunny day," he says woozily. "Now I'm really worried I've forgotten the songs!"

He needn't worry. Once out on the tiny stage he and his bandmates are wired and taut. Two songs in and Yan's already bounding around in the crowd - goading the audience for a reaction. The band do remember the clutch of new songs, and play them with a furious abandon that lends them a fiery new edge.

But there is post-gig disappointment in store when Yan realises his favourite red scarf is missing, pinched by a punter amid the stage-diving. Thanks to British Sea Power's culty status among fans, pilfering from the band is an occupational hazard. "That was another reason to stop using the birds," says Hamilton. "People would climb up on stage to steal them."

Leaving the venue, it's off to Dr Pong's - and the club does not disappoint. Fronted with dingy nicotine-stained frosted glass, it is the epitome of East German drabness. Inside, the decor is industrial, but not in a self-consciously trendy way. As Eamon says, wide-eyed like a child in a candy store, "it looks like a squatters' party". There's nothing here aside from a DIY bar dispensing beer and, of course, the ping-pong table where folk queue up in long lines to take a turn.

On the plane home the next day, the band look tired but happy. The response to their gig may not have been overwhelming, but British Sea Power will always be a band for more refined tastes. Now their minds are already turning to a weekend off and the various bird-watching, hiking and reading options that brings. "We always wanted to be different from other bands," sighs Yan happily. "And I think we've done that."

British Sea Power play Anson Rooms, Bristol, on Wednesday, then touring (k). 'Open Season' is out now on Rough Trade

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

vendredi, avril 01, 2005

Natalie Imbruglia

Torn no longer

After a tough few years, Natalie Imbruglia has found the right songs again. Her new album is the proof, she tells James McNair

Published : 01 April 2005

Natalie Imbruglia was 16 when she began playing the surfer girl Beth Brennan in Neighbours. Fourteen years on - and seven years after the hit "Torn" established her as a pop star - we're meeting at her PR's London offices.

Imbruglia's beauty - huge blue eyes, full lips and perfect, L'Oréal-nourished skin - is striking. Beside her is a Balenciaga handbag, a gift from her husband Daniel Johns, the singer and guitarist with the Australian rock band Silverchair.

Imbruglia left Neighbours more than a decade ago, and she won't be taking part in the Aussie soap's upcoming 20th anniversary celebrations, although she was asked. "I'll always be grateful to the show for launching my career," she says, "but I wouldn't want to revisit that time."

In any case, commitments would make it very tricky. Visit her website at k, and you'll see a digital clock ticking off the time to the release of her third album, Counting Down the Days - three years in the making and subject to various false starts and hurdles. The single "Shiver" is already a hit and Nat is doing the promotional rounds.

Problem one in making the album was the material. The band she played Australia's Rumba Festival with in 2002 "rocked out a bit", and - although that was fun - her less than raucous voice was drowned out at times. "The record company wasn't feeling what we'd written; they thought it had too many heavy guitars," she says. "Most of it got scrapped."

Then, when Imbruglia began passing on songs that became hits for others, she acquired a reputation for being difficult. "It wasn't that I didn't know they were hits, more that I knew they weren't right for me," she says. "I have to value the sentiment of a song. If that makes me a control freak, I'll live with that."

One song that made it was "Shiver". With Shep Solomon, it was written by Eg White, who wrote "Leave Right Now" for Will Young. On Counting Down..., she has also worked with the writer/producers Ash Howes and Martin Harrington; the Blur producer Ben Hillier; and with her husband, who donated the Beatles-esque "Satisfied".

She met Johns at a Silverchair gig in London in 1999. After dating, splitting, reuniting and then marrying on 31 December 2003, they are now living on opposite sides of the globe - an arrangement that seems to suit them. "I see it as a good thing that we have so much space," Imbruglia says. "I can sense when Dan needs to go off and do his thing. When we're apart and he tells me he's come up with songs, I'm pleased because that's the person I fell in love with. If I felt I was taking that away from him, I'd be the first to put him on a plane and say, 'Time for a writing trip.'"

Still, it's not surprising that a major theme on Counting Down... is that great pop stalwart, longing. Imbruglia thinks that her new album might have been less potent if she and Johns were together all the time: "Getting too happy and writing shit songs scares a lot of songwriters."

And she seems uncomfortable when quizzed about her efforts to learn the guitar. "I gave it a go, and I was terrible," she says. "You feel this pressure that people will take you more seriously if you play guitar, but I've decided I'm a singer and that's enough."

Natalie Jane Imbruglia was born in Campsie, Sydney in 1975. In her early teens, she attended McDonald College, a performing-arts school in Sydney. Emerging as something of an all-rounder, she got an agent and began doing TV advert work. At 16, she won a part in Neighbours and left home to live in Melbourne. This was when her love affair with music began; by day she acted on Ramsay Street, at night she was singing Joni Mitchell and Shawn Colvin.

Disappointed by the scripts and weary of compulsory bikini days, she quit Neighbours in 1994 and moved to London. After partying "a lot", she turned again to music. Her 1997 debut album Left of the Middle reached No 5, sold 6.5 million copies and stayed in the UK chart for 81 weeks. Since then it's been something of a struggle, with poor sales of her 2001 album White Lilies Island, so the six-figure endorsement deal Imbruglia signed with L'Oréal in 2002 must have cheered her up no end.

What with that other Neighbours star turned pop princess Kylie now working her Showgirl tour, costing £5m to stage, you feel for Imbruglia when she says that booking venues for her own tour is a tough call. "If I don't get to tour this year, I'll go mad," she says. "But the record company tells me it depends on how well the album does. I know my music probably isn't going to matter to the public after I die, but that doesn't mean I don't have something to offer."

'Counting Down the Days' is out on Monday on Brightside Recordings

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.