What A Treat
10 Track, LP (2013, Ready Freddie/MGM)
Related: Laura Imbruglia.
Laughing through the tears: that’s what Laura Imbruglia does best on her third album, whether setting her self-deprecating punch lines to country-pop arrangements plucky or weepy. Like Bitch Prefect’s “bad life decisions”, the Melbourne-via-Sydney songwriter celebrates her knack for what the presser calls “recurring bad life patterns.” But it’s the laughing that’s so crucial. Imbruglia makes heartbreak a jovial communal experience, inverting romantic bleakness into winking wisecracks and inviting us to link arms in a sort of cathartic line dance.
It works a treat (no pun intended). Taken separately from its daggy video, the opening single ‘Awoooh!’ is joyously lightweight despite Imbruglia calling herself an idiot savant in the very first line. Flecked with belly-warming organ and tear-stained pedal steel, it’s an admission of a crush exaggerated into a primal mating call. It’s actually one of the most optimistic songs here. It also leads us unsuspectingly into the bitter jaws of ‘Harsh Dylan Songs’, which builds a fantastic chorus out of breakup-appropriate Zimmerman fare: ‘I Don’t Believe You’, ‘Don’t Think Twice’, ‘Idiot Wind’ (“not very nice”) and ‘Positively 4th Street’ (“sometimes”).
That it’s every bit as squirrelly as the song before it says everything about this album: whether Imbruglia and band are enshrining the good times or the bad, they’re not letting it tarnish their in-the-pocket pop gleam. Even when she’s hitting the crestfallen vocal highs of classic country music on ‘If I Ever’, she’s singing of “snake-infested surrounds” with what sounds like a crooked grin. Named for the initial infatuation often mistaken for love, ‘Limerence’ recalls the doleful Edith Frost yet still packs self-mocking turns like “I love you like fire loves wood.”
While What a Treat is billed under Imbruglia’s name, it’s an unmistakable showcase for her band and her friends alike. On ‘Straight to the Bar’ a sudden bout of layered vocal harmonies points squarely to Ben Mason’s recent history covering a whole Zombies album, while ‘The Intervention’ passes the microphone freely between Fraser A. Gorman, Bob Harrow and Laura Jean. Ben Salter and Seja Vogel show up too, all in the service of the grand tragicomic hoedown. Imbruglia rattles off the names of copulating insect life on the jammy ‘Incest’, and sings of both child-molesting reverends and the healing power of Ween on the closing title track.
Imbruglia isn’t wishing she’d never had to suffer through the hurting required to pen these songs. On ‘Ain’t Done Yet’, she admits, “Maybe, baby, we should never had met/I wish that I could say I feel regret.” But she doesn’t. In fact, she wants another crack. If it’s going to produce another jackpot of wordplay-studded hijinks like this, so much the better.
by Doug Wallen