Hanging by a tail
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Hanging by a tail

The first time I heard KT Tunstall aka Kate Tunstall was two years ago while listening to two tracks that formed her CD single, 'Under the weather' (a song from the her 2004 debut album, Eye to the Telescope).

columns Updated: Oct 30, 2010 00:34 IST
Indrajit Hazra
Indrajit Hazra
Hindustan Times

The first time I heard KT Tunstall aka Kate Tunstall was two years ago while listening to two tracks that formed her CD single, 'Under the weather' (a song from the her 2004 debut album, Eye to the Telescope). The title track was pleasant enough, coming from an old-fashioned singer-songwriter's bag of melodies, the tune to listen to while stirring your first cuppa.

But it was the other number on the single, a cover of Dylan's 'Tangled up in blue', that made me stop whatever I was doing. It's risky enough for anyone to do the old pistol-shooter's classic diggity track from his 1975 Blood on the Tracks. But for a woman to take a shot at it — and for some dire consquences, one can refer to the Indigo Girls version — is asking for catcalls. But KT, in a lustful rendition from a BBC live show, swung the mallet and made the song her own, sounding half-lumberjack, half-slumber partner. Here was a voice that could do good songs when singing good songs.

Well, Tunstall's Tiger Suit, has these bush-fire moments. But it starts in a plain Jane fashion. Sounding like a fuller-voiced 'Mandinka'-period Sinead O'Connor, KT kicks off her boots and fluffs up her hair in 'Uummannaq song'. 'Glamour puss' makes naff comments about cosmetic people. But this isn't quite Courtney Love ripping apart the Hollywood tarts. It's simply a catchy pop tune trying to push irony buttons.

By the time, I reach 'Push that knot away' I start to wonder. Have I walked into a gypsy camp, where chorus lines and dance beats lock arms and spin around in a coven with that folksy, acoustic guitar strumming? The stirrings of something interesting come in 'Difficulty', where Tunstall uses a hard riff to wrap her tune around. But the strumming returns — with xylophones! — in 'Fade like a shadow' (that I hear has been released as the US single and I'm sure will be a hit) and I'm ready to put my PJ Harvey album on instead.

But then I skip 'Lost' (one of those 'sensitive' songs that has Kate Bush written all over it) and reach a different zone in the bluesy grumble of 'Golden Frames'. Yes. This is the KT Tunstall I had pinned my hopes on. It's a deceptively headshaking campfire song that could have easily come from the long, lanky sleeves of a Nick Cave — the backing vocals of 'Seasick Steve' is so Nick. As they shiver-sing this strange tale of a "popular and pretty" woman who was "followed by the light/ swallowed by the terrible light", I turn the lights on.

'Come on, get in' is a girls-singalong distraction followed by the genuinely poignant and pretty-as-a-lame-girl song, '(Still A) Weirdo'. Reminiscent of Beck in his majestic Sea Changes, Tunstall tells it exactly how it feels to give up on youthful dreams but not quite: “Pay my lip service/ keep it eloquent/ optimistic but/ never quite elegant/ still a weirdo/ still a weirdo/ after all these years.”

The noisy, skirts-raising rock'n'roller 'Madame Trudeaux' (co-written by producer and former 4 Non Blondes frontwoman Linda Perry) is the real exit to the album, even though a fog of a song 'The entertainer' actually ends it. This record could have been so much more. But then, I may have liked it more if I hadn't heard KT at least once before.

Whenever I hear the words 'concept album', I reach for my tatoo-removing jack-knife. Well, Linkin Park is out with one now and I better come to terms with it without having to shove my palm into my mouth to stop laughing. The 'tone' is set at the beginning of A Thousand Suns with a clip from physicist Robert Oppenheimer's famous quote from the Gita after watching the first atom bomb blast: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

A lot of sounds in 'When they come for me' seem to come from a roadside dhaba Bollywood mix party. Close your eyes and 'Robot boy' could be some 90s boy band making a capella-filled comeback.

'Waiting for the end' rocks with a reggae lilt and Chester Bennington finally makes his voice present with a skimpy wavealong. Surely 'Blackout' sounds promising? The dirgeful strings and the build-up are vintage Linkin Park traits and the vocal blast is comforting. We are made to hear clips of Martin Luther King Jr with a piano chord progression. By 'Iridescent', the band has decided to do a song of peace and love and no real tune or chomp.

This is a strange album, perhaps meant for all those who air-punched their years listening to 'Numb' and 'In the end' and are now ready to join an NGO or a bank. Which is such a pity.

First Published: Oct 30, 2010 00:30 IST