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Fast chat: Natalie Imbruglia on male singers' faves

Australian pop singer Natalie Imbruglia had put music aside in recent years to study acting, but music is a tough habit to break. So on July 31 she released a comeback album, "Male," a compilation of songs from male songwriters she loves.

Tracks include a variety of gents and genres, from Daft Punk's "Instant Crush" to Cat Stevens' "The Wind," plus "Let My Love Open the Door," (Pete Townshend), "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" (Neil Young), "The Waiting" (Tom Petty), "Friday I'm in Love" (The Cure) and others.

Known for her 1997 hit song "Torn," which earned her three Grammy nominations, Imbruglia has also starred in the Aussie TV series "Neighbours," and appeared on stage and in several films. She now lives in London, but chatted by phone from Sardinia with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.

Sardinia -- what are you doing there?

I have a gig here tomorrow. This place is incredible.

So I've heard. I've been to Corsica -- I love those sorta off-the-beaten-track islands.

I can certainly recommend this one. It's beautiful.

Tell me about the new album -- how'd you get this "all-male" idea?

The original theme was "my favorite artists," but you realize you won't sound so good on some of your favorite songs -- they don't suit you. And covering some of my favorite female artists -- like Bonnie Raitt? [She laughs.] How do you do that? Doing men's songs felt fun, and people don't compare you as much. It's an organic, thoughtful album. And the songs aren't all massive hits everyone's familiar with -- some people are hearing these songs for the first time. I've been doing a lot of live shows, and the new material is going down a treat, which is really lovely.

Did you say, "going down a tree?"

The new songs are going down a treat.

Ohhh, OK.

I wasn't climbing trees. [She laughs.]

I thought maybe "going down a tree" was some Aussie phrase.

Some koala thing? Yeahhh. I don't know where I got that expression.

Which songs did you know right away you wanted to do?

When I was a teenager, artists like Neil Young had a big impact on me. You know that age when suddenly everything you do is your own taste -- not your parents'? The artists I discovered at that time affected me deeply. I felt so connected to them. Like the first time I heard the album "Asylum Years," by Tom Waits. I'll never forget where I was -- lying on the floor looking at the ceiling in North London, and my friend was playing me the song "Martha" from that album. And I was like . . . WOW. It only happens at that time of your life. As you get older it's harder for music to have that same impact on you as it does when you're young.

Why is that?

You're getting to know who you are. When I was a kid, my whole family was obsessed with the Carpenters. My dad liked The Mamas & the Papas . . . Neil Diamond . . . The Beatles. Then there was popular music from Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. But then I'm a teenager and I'm discovering Indigo Girls, Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones. And it's like, I'm goth, man! You know? [She chuckles.] Like . . . I'm deep. You think you're so cool.

The music industry is so much about packaging these days. How do you combat that?

The market's changed. But Sony Masterworks is very much an artist-friendly label. I said I don't want to do something trendy. I'm 40, I'm not gonna jump around and -- you know what I mean? I took two years out to study acting . . . but I love music. I miss it. And I wanted to go back to singing. I wanted to do an album that sounded like me. I don't think you sign an artist like me at this time of my career unless you're down with that.

So why did you drop out of music?

Part of the reason was the politics. It was around the time when all the mergers happened -- music labels were falling apart and coming together -- it was chaos. This one album of mine was inherited by so many labels and they all wanted to change it. So I just allowed myself to step away so I could come back fresh. I think the best thing I can do for fans is be excited about performing. They feel it, you know? I'm sorry, I'm just rambling. It's late here.

No, no, no.

Plus . . . it's kind of one of those "I've had too much sun today" type days.

Well, there are certainly worse things. Another tough day in Sardinia, eh?

Yes. [She laughs.] I have a blessed life.

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