Returning from an extended absence -- she hasn't made an album since 2009's Come to Life and hasn't seen a record released in the U.S. since 2001's White Lilies Island, which was the sequel to her 1997 blockbuster Left of the Middle; a long time gone, in other words -- Natalie Imbruglia lands upon an interesting concept for her comeback: take 12 songs written by male singer/songwriters and recast them as feminine. For Imbruglia, this means reviving the hazy focus of her global blockbuster "Torn," a feel created with soft, strummed guitars and clear vocals, a sound that suits a middle-aged singer as comfortably as it does a young one, perhaps even a touch better. Although Male shamelessly evokes Left of the Middle -- the cover itself looks like something of a sequel -- Imbruglia takes pains to show that she's listened to recent music. Not only are there covers of Daft Punk, Death Cab for Cutie, and Iron & Wine, but she grafts a Mumford & Sons folk-stomp onto the Cure's "Friday I'm in Love," then gently pushes Tom Petty's "The Waiting" toward a tapped folk rhythm. Everything is so sweet and light, it's difficult to discern whether Imbruglia's choice of songs is meant to convey something greater than that these are a bunch of nice tunes. Certainly, the concept of Male suggests there might be a conceptual undertow to the album -- Imbruglia finding the femininity in masculine writers -- but Imbruglia chooses songs where sexuality is incidental; these are love songs that are easily retooled for the opposite sex. This safety in song selection and production means that Male certainly doesn't have the bite of Tori Amos' 2001 album Strange Little Girls, a record that wears its sexual politics proudly, but Imbruglia has never been an ambitious artist: she's always been a sweet, pleasant crooner and Male plays to those very strengths.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine