Review Summary: Superb poppy composition and construction with consistent results.
Katherine McPhee came out on stage on her knees, accompanied only by two drummers sitting on conga-like instruments, an acoustic guitar, and some other light percussion. Certainly an anomaly in American Idol performance, she began to sing KT Tunstall’s “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree”, a song just scraping the American charts at the bottom. This performance, however, would take KT’s song into the Top 20 almost instantaneously. Though her success after “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” might make her seem a one hit wonder, her success has remained relatively constant in the UK. In fact, in the rest of the world, “Suddenly I See” was her most successful single, peaking at #12 in the UK and the only song to make the Australian charts. She nearly won the Mercury Music Prize in 2005, defeated by Antony and the Johnsons. Despite her limited chart success, KT might be more suitable in the indie scene, where female singer-songwriters like Regina Spektor and Fiona Apple find almost cult-like followings.
My experiences with Tunstall’s music have been limited. I remember the McPhee performance, one of the only American Idol performances I remember solely because of the unique instrumentation, and I recall hearing the song on the radio countless times afterwards. Over a year later, a friend showed me this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-K4CXvxNcw and fell in love with the raspy voiced guitarist. Her use of the loop machine in the cover is brilliant, and I soon discovered that Drastic Fantastic
was due for release in a few weeks. Once I excitedly heard the album for the first time, I found myself addicted to this album of pop gems.
is the kind of album that goes song by song. Nothing really defines it other than Tunstall’s guitar-based music and her distinguishable voice. Regardless, it flows smoothly in energy, although dragged down in the middle with too many mid-tempo songs and too little of the eccentric, rhythmic style of her most successful songs. “Little Favours” kicks the album off with a powerful mid-tempo song that has one of the best chord progressions on the album. The obvious switch from minor to major with motion to the chorus causes a dynamic switch in mood and atmosphere, making room for superb vocal harmonies that line the entire album’s high points. Continuing excellence all the way through “Hold On”, everything flows surprisingly well. “Funnyman” has one of the catchiest choruses of the album, while “White Bird” brings the volume and intensity down perfectly at the third song. Although not catchy as a standalone single, “Hold On” fits perfectly inside the album.
On the whole, the album is much more melodic than what might be expected from Tunstall. She seldom enters her unique raspy style best shown on the “I Want You Back” cover shown in the video above, and rather tries to serenade. Luckily, she manages to pull this off well because of the excellent construction throughout the album. The almost country style of “Beauty of Uncertainty” uses a more atmospheric sound, something that seems to work well with Tunstall’s relaxed vocals. “Saving My Face” has some of the most danceable grooves throughout the album, a smart choice for the second single in that respect. The biggest mistake is the album’s lackluster ending, two unenergetic, relaxed songs that are extremely forgettable in the grand scheme of the album. After flowing so well throughout, these tracks could have easily been placed elsewhere or made B-sides without any bad consequences.
While Tunstall’s sophomore effort may not pioneer, it is incredibly relaxing, soothing, and enjoyable, and in pop music, there isn’t much else to creating a successful album in this style. Drastic Fantastic
achieves success due to its near-perfect composition and construction.