Life Props:Natalie Imbruglia's 'That Day'

Life Props

Natalie Imbruglia's That Day

When I was commuting to work in Manchester, each day four things kept me sane. Writing this weblog which I began ironically just as I had less time write anything but also when I had a massive number of things I could write about. The sure decision going into the job that I would be there for one calendar year, until the same day one year later. The Guardian newspaper. The music. It actually took me a few months to buy a portable cd player, a Matsui which was cheap but suited the purpose. I carried with me a selection of albums in a pouch, picked mostly randomly from my collection. It was a broad mix from the Deacon Blue best of compilation (the first cd album I bought) to Mike Figgis music for his film Leaving Las Vegas. An average train journey was fifty minutes which was the length of most of the albums which was just perfect.

After a while I began to vary the music and actively looking for things I wouldn't listen to usually because I had the time to experiment. The lamented and sometimes lamentable Travels with Matsui articles on the weblog were a reaction to this as I trundled through Pink Floyd and Britney Spears. It was an interesting experiment, but after only a few weeks it began to annoy me. I needed music I could hide in for those journeys, envelope me from the madness of the packed train or the misery of the delays or the sheer tiredness. The sheer unfamiliarity of what was happening in my ears did help matters. So instead I started looking for things which were new but familiar, which I was still discovering but which sounded like they were written to appeal to me. It was about here that I first discovered World Music with Verity Sharpe's Late Junction compilations, and fell for Shelby Lynne's second album after reading a really good interview with her in The Guardian. Again as a form of synergy I put together a soundtrack for the weblog which to a degree reflects how my musical tastes were changing during that time.

Then there was Natalie Imbruglia's song That Day. It's from her second album White Lilies Island. If ever there was an unsung hour of music. Second records are always tricky and many artists fall apart. Not this one. Her first Left of the Middle was a fairly big hit, largely on the back of her recording of Torn, ironically the only thing she didn't write herself. Predictably the rest of the piece is nothing like that, sometimes dark, sometimes deadly. So the inevitable follow-up was also dissimilar to the hit and was ignored by critics and the public alike. As is the way of things, I thought it was brilliant. I suppose now I should be careful not imbue it with a mythic quality it can't withstand if you happen to hear it, but for me, during that time, it was a transporter, away from the man in front of me across the train table whose long legs kept crunching into mine (for example). I'm listening to it right now and wonder if it had been released this year during the Norah Jones / Joss Stone era if it would have found a richer audience - it has that quality you see of winding down and luxuriating.

But to return to That Day. It's the first track on the album, but I discovered in on the late pop and comedy tv station PlayUK which I'd watch before going to work, while I ate my Crunchy Nut Cornflakes. For about two weeks it was on every morning just before seven o'clock, just before REM's Imitation of Life. It's actually not that remarkable. Imbruglia appears in a dark green corridor - like an old fashioned subway. Silhouetted passers-by walk away from us as the singer steps forward, brilliantly lit, sometimes looking at us sometimes away. But it wasn't the video I was looking forward to, it was the song.

A conundrum of words. That aren't sung. It's quite close to rap, but not in an angry or aggressive way, like poetry without the beats being too obvious or in any kind of order. Hammering out the rhythm on a table it sounds more like morse code. It also doesn't adhere to the pop regime of two verses, chorus, two verses, chorus, bridge, chorus repeat to fade The second time I heard it was so that could work out what the words all were. The third time I just about managed, and by the fourth I was addicted. Like REM's It's the End of the World ..., it's there to be mastered, keeping all those words in place as deftly as she does. When I bought the single I played it over and over trying to drag myself through it. I remember standing in the kitchen making dinner, the cd single's inlay in hand working my way through the lyrics, marveling at her verbal dexterity. To this day I still can't do it. I always trip over 'Sad, scared, small, alone, beautiful'.

It wasn't until I was sitting on that evening train home, ('which had been delayed by approximately thirty minutes due to a points failure') utterly depressed, that the lyrics finally sank in ...

That day, that day
What a mess what a marvel
I walked into that cloud again
And I lost myself
And I'm sad, sad, sad
Small, alone, scared
Craving purity
A fragile mind and
A gentle spirit
That day, that day
What a marvelous mess
This is all that I can do
I'm done to be me
Sad, scared, small, alone, beautiful
It's supposed to be like this
I accept everything
It's supposed to be like this

That day, that day
I lay down beside myself
In this feeling of pain, sadness
Scared, small, climbing, crawling
Towards the light
And it's all I see and
I'm tired and I'm right
And I'm wrong
And it's beautiful

That day that day
What a mess
What a marvel
We're all the same
And no one thinks so
And it's okay
And I'm small
And I'm divine
And it's beautiful
And it's coming
But it's already here
And it's absolutely perfect

That day, that day
When everything was a mess
And everything was in place
And there's too much hurt
Sad, small, scared, alone
And everyone's a cynic
And it's hard and it's sweet
But it's supposed
To be like this

That day, that day
When I sat in the sun
And I thought and I cried
'cause I'm sad, scared, small
Alone, strong
And I'm nothing
And I'm true
Only a brave man
Can break through
And it's all okay
Yeah, it's okay

It's those final two lines. 'It's all okay, Yeah it's okay.' I know that they're not supposed to have the same resonances I was getting from them (probably for her a handy way to step away from the mic for a few moment while the band plays). But the little tired man hiding at the back of my mind agreed with her. Actually, yes it will be ok. I've heard other people tell stories like this, how the right song, at the right time can save them. And I'm sure my family and friends had said something similar to the lyric before. I don't understand why some singer I've never met in a song I'd heard many time would be more convincing. But Natalie Imbruglia was. Yes, it was all okay, yeah it was ok. I was going to be ok.

Its power comes and goes. It's there on my hard drive and WinAmp will pull it out of the many days of music now and then. Sometimes it drifts through un-noticed and sometimes, like the other day, it'll break through the fog when I think it's all going wrong to remind me that it actually isn't. That the end is in sight that the next good thing is on it's way and I shouldn't worry because ...

'It's all okay, Yeah it's okay.'


  1. Wow. I have sorta similar feelings about the song and about Imbruglia's album "White Lilies Island" - but that was an outstanding post on the subject! :-)

  2. Amazing post. Left of the Middle was the first CD I ever bought. Now to check out White Lilies Island on Amazon...

  3. Annette, White Lilies Island is a much better album, I think. Maybe because it's more mature and with a little more edge to it. Left of the Middle is fun and poppy, but White Lilies is just more interesting.

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