Games of two halves on double-side album
Big release of the week: KT tunstall Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon (Virgin) 3 STARS
fter her flirtation with pop on her last album, Kate Victoria Tunstall returns to the more intimate brand of confessional songwriting that made her debut, Eye to the Telescope, so appealing.
For her fourth album, the Edinburgh singer decamped to Tucson, Arizona, to work with the hugely prolific alt.country stalwart Howe Gelb (best known for fronting Giant Sand) in two sessions many months apart – a fact denoted, apparently, by its two-pronged title.
Gelb is an intriguing choice of collaborator. He not only knows his way around a tune to burn itself into your heart, but has something of a track record in bringing out the best in others. And for the first half of this album – Tunstall has talked about two distinct sides, redolent of the vinyl age – Gelb has certainly coaxed some wonderful material from the Scot.
There's the achingly sad Yellow Flower Song, whose spare arrangement augments Tunstall's gorgeous, arresting vocals while the wonderfully understated Invisible Empire is one of the very best songs she has yet released.
The death of her adoptive father and the end of her marriage (the divorce was finalised just weeks ago) are likely to have inspired the pervading sense of melancholia that makes the first half so captivating.
By contrast, the Crescent Moon side isn't nearly as engaging. Several of the songs have been tarted up to such a degree that they sound little more than homogenised middle-of- the-road fodder. Made of Glass would have been much more effective as a sparse, acoustic number rather than the radio-baiting effort released here.
Throughout her career, Tunstall has displayed a similar willingness to wreck her standing as a first-rate songwriter with songs that appear to shamelessly seek mass approval. Maybe she should remember the old adage about not trying to appeal to all of the people all of the time, because she is a force to be reckoned with when she follows her own calling.
KEY TRACKS Yellow Flower Song; Invisible Empire