You couldn’t turn on MTV in the late 1990s without seeing Natalie Imbruglia’s video for “Torn”. It was the most-played song on UK radio in the late 1990s and one of the top 20 most-played records of the entire 1990s.
Back in the late 1990s, I pretty much only had MTV for company, so it’s no wonder “Torn” is a song I’ve got a real soft spot for. When I came home from work I switched on MTV more or less automatically.
As I lived in a really small house, I could still hear the TV in the front room even while I made dinner for myself in the kitchen. It kept me from having to deal with the emptiness of the rest of the house.
More often than not, it won’t surprise you, “Torn” would come along at some point during the evening…sometimes more than once, depending on MTV’s scheduling that day.
But what might surprise you more is that Natalie Imbruglia’s worldwide hit was a cover. I admit that at the time I thought it was an original song too, so don’t feel bad.
It wasn’t until several years later I discovered “Torn” had been written way back in 1993 by Scott Cutler, Anne Preven and Phil Thornally…and although it had been written in English, the first version of the song came out in Danish.
Once “Torn” had been translated, it became “Braendt”…Danish for “Burned” and did reasonably well for Lis Sorensen (apologies to any Danish readers — I don’t know how to make my keyboard do that line through the “o”). “Torn”…or “Braendt” did not especially trouble the international pop charts back in 1993, but if you want a listen to that version, it’s here.
Next up was Ednaswap, a band which included the original songwriters, Scott Cutler, Anne Preven and Phil Thornally. Their 1995 version was more of a rock song than the pop song that 1990s MTV viewers would later come to know and love. And it’s a pretty good version too…give it a listen here if you’ve got a moment.
Roll forward another couple of years and Australian soap star Natalie Imbruglia was trying to get her recording career under way. By chance, she ended up working with Phil Thornally who co-wrote some of the track on her debut album, “Left Of The Middle”, and was part of the album’s production team.
At some point during this process…I’m not exactly sure when…Phil Thornally presumably said to Natalie Imbruglia something along the lines of “there’s a song I had a hand in writing a couple of years back that might be perfect for you”…and “Torn” morphed into the version most people think of today.
Unlike some, I don’t have a problem with cover versions of songs, as long as they’re done well and ideally add something new to the feel of the song, rather than just being a pale copy of the original.
Natalie Imbruglia’s version is quite different from the rockier Ednaswap version (although they are both recognisably the same song), but admittedly more similar to Lis Sorensen’s treatment (albeit that was in a different language).
So I think Natalie Imbruglia met the standard of being different enough to deserve her worldwide smash hit, even with a cover.
“Torn” doesn’t come from the happiest of places. Natalie Imbruglia’s sweet vocal tones mask some pretty despairing lyrics about meeting someone she thought was Mr Right, but who turned out to be anything but…
I thought I saw a man brought to life
He was warm, he came around like he was dignified
He showed me what it was to cry
Well, you couldn’t be that man I adored
You don’t seem to know, seem to care what your heart is for
But I don’t know him any more
Funny how that happens.
And, of course, this is just one side of the story. There may have been something else going on. What can I say — relationships are complicated…
They usually start off well enough. Full of optimism and hope. You imagine wedding bells, great times, children and growing old gracefully together.
Somewhere along the way, those plans don’t always pan out as well as you initially thought they would.
In “Torn”, things seem to have gone even less well than the running average…
I’m all out of faith
This is how I feel
I’m cold and I am shamed
Lying naked on the floor
None of that sounds like a good outcome for anyone…although it’s not a bad description of how I spent most of my evenings in the late 1990s. Maybe that’s why I liked the song so much…kindred spirits or something…
There’s a great line in “Torn” which goes “illusion never changed into something real”. I’ve always liked those lyrics.
You see, when you meet someone for the first time, everything is an illusion. You don’t know the person or even very much about them, so everything you’re working on is stories you make up in your head about what this other person might be like.
Are they kind? Generous? Attractive? Likely to be a good parent?
You have no way of knowing the answers for sure so you piece together a picture in your mind based on little things they say or do to try and work out whether you want to see them again.
It’s hardest when people are nice — they might be faking it.
But you’re always on solid ground with people who are rude and discourteous. They will never be nice people. They’ve already shown their true colours. Don’t think for a moment before you cut them out of your life…it can only end badly.
Some people, though, do a pretty good job of pretending to be nice even when they’re not. That’s much harder to pick up on and unscrupulous people can suck you in and have you hooked before you get even a hint of their true nature.
But by then you’ve got so much invested in the relationship that you tell yourself stories to bring things back in line with the dreams they’ve already sold you on.
“He didn’t mean it.”
“She was too tired from all the extra work she’s been doing lately.”
“He was only joking — he didn’t mean to offend you.”
“Sometimes she can be a bit off-hand with people — she doesn’t mean anything by it. People are too easily offended these days.”
Those…and many other stories like them…are what we tell ourselves when our dreams have hit the buffers, but we can’t, or won’t, walk out.
Maybe we’ve bought a house together, got young children to look after or need the financial support a partner brings.
When the choice is destitution or putting up with a fundamentally unsatisfactory relationship, you know you’re cornered.
Often the only “sensible decision”, you tell yourself, is just to put up with the life you’ve been given and the cards you’ve been dealt. Your partner has likely made sure they’ve isolated you from your old friends and family into the bargain, so even if you wanted to escape, you’ve nowhere to go.
That’s a tough gig.
Which is why you shouldn’t judge people who just keep going as best they can. Always remember they’ve only ended up staying put only because it’s the least unpleasant option out of a desperately unattractive range of possible choices.
So when you come across someone in that position, just pause for a moment and think about the sort of options they’ve probably got if staying put in a desperately unhappy situation is the best decision they could have made.
They deserve your love and support, not your scorn.
Yes, sometimes illusions don’t change into something real. Sometimes things don’t work out as you’d hoped. Sometimes you put up with things you shouldn’t just because that’s the least worst of all the very unattractive alternatives.
I hope you never find yourself in a situation like this, but if you do, just know that you’re not alone. More people than you might think are exactly where you are. There are people who can help you. People who can get your life back on track. People who will to what they can to support you.
When the time’s right, they’ll be waiting for you.
In the meantime, perhaps you can do as I did in the late 1990s and console yourself with Natalie Imbruglia’s delightful version of “Torn”…a song that’s a good deal less happy than the sweet, poppy treatment might initially make you think.
And hang around for the guitar solo on the outro as well…always one of my favourite sections of the song.
Here’s Natalie Imbruglia with “Torn”…
PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”…or even more than one if you’re feeling kind. You can also follow me on Medium (here) or Twitter (here) to get new articles as soon as they’re published. And why not check out my book “No Words, No Song”, where I write about more great songs like this one, available in the Kindle Bookstore (here).