Left of the Middle
Before her out-of-nowhere smash of a debut album at age 22, Natalie Imbruglia was best-known for appearing on two seasons of the Aussie soap opera Neighbours. Powering the album’s surprise success was opener—and obvious lead single—“Torn,” a fraught-love anthem about feeling pulled apart by emotions. Written by members of the American rock band Ednaswap, the song had already been recorded three times before Imbruglia took it to the top of charts in the US, Canada, and several other countries. It’s easy to see why Imbruglia’s version took off, between its breezy guitar strum, baggy drums, and clean, open chorus. “Torn” became the undisputed herald for Left of the Middle, a contrasting set of songs designed to show off this musical newcomer’s natural versatility. A deep bench of co-writers ensures that continuing sense of variety: “Big Mistake” and “Wishing I Was There” intentionally echo the raw-throated angst of Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill, while “Leave Me Alone” incorporates Portishead-style flourishes like spine-tingling reverb and a jazzy, stuttered beat. Imbruglia fares quite well across all these scene changes, highlighting her vocal abilities best on ballads like the piano-led “Smoke” and the acoustic title track. Left of the Middle earned Imbruglia three Grammy nominations and an ARIA win for Best Pop Release. Named after the location of her adopted home in Windsor, England, her 2001 follow-up, White Lilies Island, didn’t have a hit with the same longevity as “Torn,” but it did confirm Imbruglia as a charming, adaptable voice in radio-friendly pop rock. She has since pivoted freely between music and acting, and she won the third season of the UK’s The Masked Singer in 2022. But that first-ever single of hers is still her calling card, remaining one of the most-played songs on Australian radio.