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Natalie Bassingthwaighte shot to fame as the lead singer of Australian electro-rock group, Rogue Traders, who had a string of hits such as 'I Never Liked You, 'Watching You' and of course, 'Voodoo Child'. She also achieved a degree of notoriety through her acting career, playing Izzy Hoyland on Neighbours for several years. Her decision to launch a solo career in 2009 was met with scepticism, but this former soap-star has proved herself on this exceptionally strong debut - '1000 Stars'. With more dance influences than she demonstrated in her band days, Nat Bass manages to combine addictive pop hooks with strong vocals, and enough diversity to create a memorable first album.
Without a doubt, the album holds a euphoric quality in both its lyrics and production. 'Someday Soon' is a stomping dance-track about realising your dreams and never giving up hope. "Someday soon you're going to catch that dream you've been chasing, someday soon they're gonna write your name in the sky" she sings on the chorus with conviction. The strong vocals, alongside the impeccable production (combining shuddering synths, a guitar riff and layered background vocals) make for a fantastic track. 'Alive', similarly keeps the dance-pop tone of the album strong. "Never thought the day would come when I'd see, my reflection smiling right back at me," she sings on the opening line of the song that deals with overcoming fear and past pain, to find joy in life again. A pretty schmaltzy idea which is handled well. There are some Arabic influences in the production which elevate it from mediocrity and make it stand out in the current euro-pop landscape of commercial radio. Addictive and memorable, it is the perfect start to the album. 'Love Like This' has many parallels with 'Alive' - anthemic in nature, it makes you want to throw your hands up in the air. The soaring chorus speaks of finally finding true love ("I can't fight this feeling anymore") and is infectious in every sense of the word. It's ultimate feel-good pop at its best.
Natalie's voice is strong throughout, and in my opinion, is pretty underrated. She is emotive and subtle with her delivery, always holding her own against the production but never trying too hard to showcase her vocal acrobatics. It makes sense that her voice shines best on the album's more emotional moments, namely the ballads. The title track, '1000 Stars' is nothing short of glorious. Her falsetto on the quiet and subdued verses, before the uplifting chorus, really is mesmerising. The track is quirky and compelling, and one of the best on the album. She also demonstrates her skill as a songwriter on 'In His Eyes' - a touching tribute to her departed grandfather. Nuanced and understated, the acoustic track feels more like a conversation with her grandmother in musical form, as she heartbreakingly tries to comfort her in the aftermath of loss. Without a doubt it is the album's centrepiece that really will dispel any naysayers and their critiques of Natalie's talent.
There are some glimmers of the quirky rock that the Rogue Traders were famed for. 'Catch Me If You Can' is a spunky track that feels almost like a Bond Theme, as Nat Bass plays a femme fatale who is challenging a lover to keep up with her. It is charming, and while it takes a few listens to get into, it feels a creative diversion away from the dance-pop feel of the album - albeit, a little out of place. Similarly, the pop-rock sound of 'Not for You' adds more diversity to the album. The lyrics have a bit more bite and sass that is present on some of the other tracks, and definitely stands out as a highlight for me. Over soaring guitars and a Kelly Clarkson-esque chorus, Natalie sings "if I gave you my heart would it be enough for you? Not for you", as she kisses off a former lover. It's one of my favourites on the CD, just for the lyrics alone.
The album is loaded with summery, pulsating pop gems. 'Supersensual' creatively samples Blondie's 'Heart of Glass', which never feels out of place or somehow violated. 'Superhuman' is more melancholic and laid-back, but builds on the album's theme of happiness on finding true love. The weakest moments occur 2/3 of the way through the album, where 'Turn the Lights On' tries too hard to be over-emotional and theatrical in its delivery - feeling incredibly out of place next to the dance-pop production of its neighbouring tracks and the lyrical currents running through the album. The album would have benefited from being two tracks shorter, allowing for a more seamless run through of wall to wall hits and no loss of momentum in terms of quality and tone of the tracks.
Never released officially in the UK, the album provides much of its joy in the sense that its material was absolutely unfamiliar to me on purchase. It provides a really exciting listening experience when you discover a popstar who you know very little about. In terms of obtaining the album, for better value for money, I'd suggest getting the album on either iTunes or Amazon MP3, as for under £8, it is far cheaper than the grossly inflated import price of the physical CD.
Without a doubt, '1000 Stars' is an exceptionally strong pop debut and could fall into the category of hidden-gem. With strong pop hooks, great vocals and enough diversity to keep you interested, the album is a fantastic start to what I hope will turn out to be a long career.
Highlights: Alive, Someday Soon, 1000 Stars, Not For You, In His Eyes, Love Like This
'Someday soon you're gonna catch that dream you've been chasing' sings Natalie Bassingthwaighte on her debut solo release, and it's hard not to wonder whether her goal wasn't always to branch out alone, making the electropop music she sounds so at home on. The track in question, 'Someday Soon', tries to be an inspirational anthem and generally succeeds, but it's the quirkier moments and the more traditional ballads on '1000 Stars' that truly stand out. On the title song, Nat Bass - more quickly-typed - sounds more sincere than ever, even if the lyrics - 'skin diving, slow motion' - don't make much sense to anybody. The album's lead-off single 'Alive' doesn't push itself either, instead employing chirpy synths in support of its happy-to-party theme.
Happily, though, this music doesn't need to be ground-breaking or especially unique to stand out - Natalie's all-dominating vocals are the main attraction here, and dominate they do, even on the loud, explosive chorus of 'Not For You'. However she has versatility as well as power and she sounds mistifying on the buzzing, restrained 'Feel The Flow', which harks back to Bassingthwaighte's days as Rogue Traders' front woman more than any other song here. 'Could You Be Loved' makes a clever sample of the 1990 Robert Miles dance classic 'Children', taking NB so far from the likes of 'Voodoo Child' that she's almost full circle; it's equally mesmerising. 'Why Do I' redefines 'understated', a mournful ponderance of unrequited love.
A couple of the tracks do Bassingthwaighte a disservice though; 'Catch Me If You Can' is a tinny Bond theme-alike minus the rich production values. It sounds painfully out of place on an album filled with otherwise grand or energetic backing tracks and seems a baffling choice for the opener of preceedings. 'Turn The Lights On' is a big, old-school ballad with some of the most determined and personal lyrics here - 'I don't know how I'm gonna get out of this with my head held high, but I'm gonna try' - but the cold piano and strings clash with Nat's naturally warm tones; the song drags after a while. Closer 'In His Eyes' is also vastly out-of-place, the acoustic guitar doing its best to destroy the great momentum created by what is essentially a very upbeat collection of songs.
Thankfully there's a quartet of numbers which confirm 1000 Stars to be a brilliant and accomplished debut solo record. 'Supersensual' samples Blondie's 'Heart Of Glass', but don't groan - it's entirely fitting amongst the shining, summery synths. Contributed by Kylie collaborator Steve Anderson, the song is better than the great majority of Minogue's disjointed last effort, 2007's X. 'Superhuman' is thankfully no relation to the forgettable Chris Brown single, but instead a sweetly melancholic affair which sounds tailor-made for late night driving. Better still is 'Love Like This', a pulsating four minutes of genuinely emotional vocals and declarations; 'It's your kiss, pure bliss / Never had a love like this'. It has a feel of Kylie's 'Love At First Sight' and is so climactic that it would be the most fitting final song. Greatest of all is 'This Can't Be Love', a massive resisting-temptation anthem which, astonishingly, Nat Bass herself claims not to have fully appreciated until she began performing it on tour. It's huge, instant and, most importantly, becomes more impressive with every listen, packing a lightly electronic sound which mashes together the best of No Doubt and The Veronicas.
Bonus track 'Star' is a disco-infused throwback quite apart from anything else on the record, though its execution is exquisite. 'Happiness', b-side to the '1000 Stars' single, should have made the cut without a doubt, a throbbing slice of electronica which dissects a fond goodbye. 'I hope that whenever you think of me, you'll smile too' she purrs.
1000 Stars is everything fans of the Rogue Traders could've expected from their multi-talented heroin; she switches effortlessly between donning her rock hat and laying her heart on the line. 'This Can't Be Love' is probably the best thing she's lent her voice to, perhaps aside from the swirling 'In Love Again' from her debut with the Rogues. It takes a great talent to steal the show the first time they go it alone, but Natalie Bassingthwaighte has done just that.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Catch Me If You Can
2 Someday Soon
3 1000 Stars
5 Not for You
6 Feel the Flow
7 Could You Be Loved
9 Why Do I
10 Turn the Lights On
11 This Can't Be Love
13 Love Like This
14 In His Eyes