Having landed seven successive top 20 singles in three years — almost unheard of for an Australian pop star, let alone one who was, at the time, operating on a small independent label — 2009 seemed to be Ricki-Lee Coulter’s annus horribilis.
Two sterling singles, released to launch a planned third album, under-performed. The album was shelved and Coulter turned her back on music, retreating to the world of breakfast radio.
Now she’s back with her finest, most life-affirming song yet. Raining Diamonds, co-written with top US hitmaker Billy Mann, is about “knowing your value and not settling for less than what you believe you are worth”.
Essentially, it’s a soaring three-minute celebration of the fact that Coulter’s life is back on track.
Meeting the Star Observer in the offices of her new record company, EMI, on her 26th birthday last week, Coulter looked radiant, the effect of both a recent dramatic weight loss and her return to music.
“It feels like it did when I was 18, doing it all for the first time. I’ve learned so much in the last couple of years away from music.
“I feel refreshed and recharged — I just want to be up on stage every night. That’s exciting, because a year and a half ago I couldn’t think of anything worse,” the frank singer said.
Worn down by an acrimonious 2008 divorce to her husband of little more than a year, and with her belief in her team at the time faltering, Coulter admitted there were times she wondered if she’d ever return to music.
“I was in a dark place. I’d just had a massive and very difficult break-up and I wasn’t happy with the team I had working with me, and decisions were being made I didn’t agree with.
“Unrealistic deadlines were being placed on me, final production was being put on tracks that in my view were only 40 percent complete. Yet I had to be the person whose name was attached to it.
“I found myself led down a path I didn’t agree with, even down to the single choices [Don’t Miss You and Hear No, See No, Speak No]. They’re great songs, but there are songs on that [unreleased] album that just blow them out of the water.
“Luckily, once I left Shock Records, I retained all my masters, so people will get to hear them.”
With Raining Diamonds racing up the iTunes charts thanks to an electrifying performance on last week’s episode of The X Factor, Coulter’s also busily working as an ambassador for this year’s World AIDS Day Red Ribbon Appeal. Coupled with recent late-night shows at gay clubs across the country, it’s clear she’s keen to reconnect with her gay fan base.
“I have such a deep connection with my gay following, and I know and have met lots of people with HIV/AIDS. Knowledge is power, and awareness definitely aids in prevention,” she said.
“It’s really sad that so many people have to suffer, and I just hope that using my voice and speaking about it helps to get the message out — and hopefully to demographics who don’t think about it enough.
“Young people think it’s never going to happen to them, but naivety is so dangerous. And that’s not just with gay men, it’s a universal issue. You have to be safe and look after yourself, because your body is the only thing you have.”
She’ll complement her ambassadorial role by performing at Sydney’s November 21 World AIDS Day concert. The ‘All-star tribute to Judy Garland’ theme of the show is a good fit for Coulter, a self-confessed “gay man trapped in a woman’s body”.
“I swear I was a drag queen in a previous life. On my very first single Hell No, the B-side was me singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow with John Foreman and a 40-piece orchestra.
“To this day, it’s my absolute favourite recording I’ve ever done, so I can think of nothing more brilliant than performing it in front of a room full of gay men who’ll totally appreciate it more than anyone.”
INFO: Raining Diamonds (EMI) out now. World AIDS Day Concert, November 21, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Macquarie St, Sydney. www.acon.org.au/WADconcert
PHOTO: Cybel Malinowski.