Natalie Imbruglia, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Even when her star was in the descendent, when her second album failed to reach the top 10 in 2001, Natalie Imbruglia never quite disappeared, and last spring she finally had a hit that equalled the impact of 1997's ubiquitous Torn. The song, Shiver, became one of this year's biggest airplay hits, setting Imbruglia up for the number one album that followed, Counting Down the Days.

A sold-out Empire confirms that she's back in business, though it may have taken her by surprise. Her show seems to have been thrown together - she's backed by five session moustaches and some disco lights - with no regard for her status as Australia's second-biggest soap-star-turned-singer. Worse, there's no recognition of the fact that a pop singer's job is to be more gorgeous than her audience. Despite Imbruglia's perception of herself as a singer-songwriter rather than an entertainer, there's no excuse for dowdiness. She may think downplaying her looks with frumpy jeans and T-shirt equates with an actor gaining weight for a role, but she hasn't got the charisma to work it. She's almost dumbstruck, peeping "Thanks, guys!" after each song and looking, for someone who has spent her life in front of cameras, acutely uncomfortable.

Torn and Shiver, casually chucked into the middle of the set, are soft rock without the rock, dispatched with the countryish lilt that is Imbruglia's main strength. A Crowded House cover, Pineapple Head, is worked over in a watery way, and the show ends with an incongruous grunge-out that does at least buck you up for the journey home. Kylie, can you take this girl under your wing?

· Further performance tomorrow. Box office: 020-8354 3300. Then touring.


Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

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