TW: Cancer treatment for the first half of this article.
I’ve had trouble writing this intro and getting all of the facts, to the point where it was delaying the rest of the article. So I’ll just come out and say the simple version: With Innocent Eyes still white-hot in July 2003, Delta was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma (a treatable form of cancer) in her neck, and “It was like a bomb had gone off.” Her character of Nina Tucker was written off of Neighbours (though she would pop up again a few more times in the years to follow), she shot the video for Innocent Eyes‘ 4th single “Not Me, Not I” in August, and then underwent 8 months of chemotherapy and 2 months of radiology.
She didn’t make a public appearance again until the November ARIA Awards 1, where she cleaned up! And they embarrassingly included her in the In Memoriam reel, despite her being right there!
Chapter 2: Strong like a Symphony (Mistaken Identity)
Indeed, music was one of the main comforts for Delta during the most testing period of her life.Biography: ‘Mistaken Identity’, archived from her website
Songs kept whizzing around in her head: melodies, harmonies, lyrics – many deeper and darker than [Innocent Eyes].
…“It’s a more grown up album,” Delta, notes. “My music changed because my life had changed; the whole world around me had changed. My music had to reflect that.”
…”[T]here’s some intense lyrics in there. It was an intense year. I mean, it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t acknowledge what went on; everyone knows what went on …I feel I had to go into depth; get things out of the way, go through the journey and end with ‘You Are My Rock’, which is a thank you song.”
I discovered this sophomore album also on a whim in the winter months: walking the New York Village and stepping into the now-closed Tower Records. My life was largely back to darkness: now halfway through my senior year, with Australia and its fresh star both a fading memory, working in the college library over the winter break (not that I had many friends during the semesters either)… This album didn’t so much inspire depression in me as loneliness. The good times were gone and I didn’t know when they would be coming back.
In the album packaging, the calming earth tones of Innocent Eyes are gone, replaced with blue & black; swirling, mysterious. The same set of eyes were staring me in the face, but now had gone through so much more. Yet you would never know it from the leadoff track and single, “Out of the Blue” (below). A straightforward, slightly-overproduced love song sounding in the vein of “Born to Try,” but reaching nowhere near those impossible heights.
But then things get interesting.
“The Analyst” (above) is a song I related to a lot, “traveling back in time, questioning every line that someone said” (and it occupying the same place that “Innocent Eyes” did on the first album I think says something). 2 “Extraordinary Day” and “Disorientated” are explicitly about her health struggles, while she finds calm in “Sanctuary” and the support of friends and family.
“Last Night on Earth” and “Electric Storm” are love songs about survival against the odds, as full of bombast as their names suggest. The title track (above) is equally so, sounding not unlike something Tori Amos would make and culminating in swirling vortex of emotions. “Nobody Listened,” a hidden track at the end of the Australian version of the album (and a song I wasn’t aware of until last year), takes it up to 11 and represents the “anger” missing piece that I sensed the absence of on the original release.
Unlike her debut, she had a hand in writing every song–save one. 3rd single “Almost Here” was a duet with Irish singer Brian McFadden, formerly of boyband Westlife, and appears both here and on his Irish Son album. It’s a lackluster ballad if you ask me (the two singers’ parts don’t meld well together) but it became her second #1 from this album. And then, as it happens, they became an official couple, eventually becoming engaged.
Towards the end of this album cycle, the video for “A Little Too Late” (below) showed her “long golden hair” coming in again. The sun was starting to show again, but not for me. My still-jaded mind thought this was a cop-out. “You’ve shown your depth, so why retreat back to this?”
She released a concert DVD, Visualise (free on YouTube via that link), confirming this direction in 2005–though I didn’t see it until 2018. Watching her live is… not what I expected. She’ll switch on a dime between her inner diva and her inner dork, frequently inserting spoken ad-libs between lines and sometimes even forgetting her own lyrics (whether “authentic” or not). Perhaps it’s out of nervousness, but this is a trait that never went away and while I hated it at the time it eventually came to be something I admired about her.
She was back on her feet again, and in love. It was time for what’s next.
Chapter 3: Growing Down a False Path (Delta)
This is the part where she officially lost me; this was a path I’m embarrassed to say I couldn’t follow (by which I mean I didn’t like either of the 2 singles above–which is all I had access to…).
It wasn’t a selling-out necessarily, but I get the feeling that it was the follow-up album that the powers that be wanted her to make, after the detour that was Mistaken Identity. Reviewers noted that this album “welcomes the pop star to womanhood – a new beginning as a lady in love and wise from her time in the industry.” Lead singles “In This Life” and “Believe Again” (above) showed a more straight-ahead pop sound, more “accessible” and less emotionally-intense, not unlike Celine Dion (whom she actually gave a song to during this era!). McFadden’s input is all over the album, either as a subject or in co-writing credits.
Nonetheless, I found some good stuff here when I finally heard it in full over a decade later. But like a lot of sprawling albums, it’s hard to get people to agree which tracks they are. “God Laughs” is an upbeat-sounding song about her parents’ divorce, “You Will Only Break my Heart” is a playful pop song about affairs of the heart, and “Bare Hands” seems like its personally attacking me. “Posessionless” is the one love song on it I like, reminding me of Jessica Simpsons’ “With You,” about being in love and vulnerable (and sexy). “Brave Face” is a “rockstar song” explicitly about her relationship to the media (She suffers hard the Tall Poppy Syndrome. Australians love to tear down their own for some reason–and the increased attention from the British press that McFadden brought was even worse).
She continued to delegate the more complex (or simple) emotions to B-sides. “Fever” is deliciously steamy, but its sibling track “Take Me Home” is one of the most-fascinating songs in her repertoire for me. It has lines like “I won’t need to say ‘I love you,’ you’ll know” (and like the rest of this era, it’s very clear who it’s about). But her being her, the entire thing is wrapped in a dream-like feeling, more sensual than sexual. And she tried to bury it as a CD-only B-side (the digital version had a different B-side).
She released another concert DVD, Believe Again, in 2009–again free via that link. 5 Like Visualise, this also eluded me until 2018, and it was just as confounding. She’s spoken before about how she wants her concerts to be a “positive” and “reaffirming” experience, and I get it, but still…
The records may be full of powerful emotions, and she can hit those heights for sure, but sometimes she cheapens them on stage (this is the opposite of how most artists go, isn’t it?) And again, personally, it’s something I have a hard time watching for an artist who touches something so deep within me. It almost hurts to hear her call out for sing-alongs during “Innocent Eyes” or “Born to Try.” This concert turned “Running Away,” my personal darkest song on the first album, into a sort of hippie-jam and it was honestly hard to get through–and still is.
But in any case, I was completely tuned out by the late-00’s (and me being in America, the signal had weakened to nothingness unless I sought it out myself). I was starting my professional life in a new, vibrant city and recalling Delta only as a memory of my past…
Next time: I talk about a chapter I–and perhaps many others–missed at the time, before our paths collide one more time in a major way.