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KT Tunstall - Eye to the Telescope Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 June 2006
format:    16-bit CD
performance:    6
sound:    5
release year:    2006
label:    Virgin
reviewed by:    K L Poore

ImageWhat’s wrong with this picture?

Remember when you were a kid and you did those weird picture puzzles where there was a man snorkeling in a bathtub in the middle of a living room, or a huge fish laying on top of an upside down television (actually that wouldn’t have been so strange at my house), and you were supposed to strike a big X through it to indicate that you had some sort of common sense?

Well, here’s possibly the strangest picture puzzle of them all. K T Tunstall, an exotically attractive young woman who writes intelligent songs, a talented multi-instrumentalist who performs as a “one-man band” and says she learned to sing by listening to Ella Fitzgerald recordings, can’t keep me interested in her debut release long enough to write a review.
And just so you won’t think this is one of those “women in rock” things, you should know that there are as many women in my music hall of fame as men. For example, Joni Mitchell could tell me to rob a bank with an overripe pear and I wouldn’t even bother to ask her if I could bring along a green banana for protection.

So what’s wrong with this picture? I don’t know. All the trappings that usually draw me in are there. Well-played confessional pop/rock sung in an engaging style. Personal songs packed with the things that usually captivate me. Articulate lyrics about life, love, loss and a few of the other Ls. Mopey, or should I say plaintive, acoustic ballads exuding hurt mixed with hope. But there’s a fish in there somewhere.
Eye to the Telescope opens with “Other Side of the World,” a song that evokes thoughts of Coldplay’s “Trouble” and sounds like it could easily be a hit single. It’s a great start, and I found it really enjoyable, but suddenly realized that I’d missed the second half of the song when I went into the kitchen and started washing last night’s dishes. Start over.

On my second pass, I made it past “Other Side” and the following tune,
“Another Place To Fall” (another radio-friendly number), to a song I really liked, “Under the Weather.” It’s comprised of delicate verses filled with smart lyrics, an attractive chorus and a rocking bridge where Tunstall repeats the line “feels like home” to great effect. It made me wonder if Edie Brickell is singing songs like this to Paul Simon when they’re sitting around late in the evening. My problem arose again when I got back from the grocery store and it dawned on me that I’d walked out right in the middle of a serious CD listening/note-taking session to go buy some admittedly desperately needed toilet paper. But where’s my focus? Usually I’ll lie down in front of the stereo and read along with the lyrics. This time I found myself standing in aisle # 7 at Ralph’s, checking out the Charmin. Start over, again.

Next up on the disc is the radio hit “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree,” a song I’d seen her impressively perform solo on the Today Show. I truly think it deserves to be a radio hit if only because of its surreal imagery and how different it sounds from most of what passes for music on radio today. I guess if I’d been in my right mind I would have taken the CD along with me when I made that run to the post office, but I guess my autopilot took over and got me there without much thought. And I start over again.

The litany of distraction continued. I’d hit and miss on a song or two and then it was back to the beginning. I know that I was listening to “Minature Disasters” when I went to get a hair cut, and it was somewhere around “Stoppin’ the Love” that I booted up Photoshop and did a little graphic design work. And each time I’d go back to the beginning, start my note taking all over again and come to, somewhere far away from the stereo. So now I was not only feeling bad about not giving this obviously talented musician a serious listen, but I began questioning my own sanity. I can get lost in things for hours and I don’t know if that’s the result of my ability to focus or an undeniable stupidity, but ADD is not part of my makeup.

I could tell that it wasn’t a bad CD. The production wasn’t killing it, and the arrangements showed some invention, but I was as lost as that guy with the snorkel in the bathtub. And then I realized … I was what was wrong in the picture. I’m the fish on the television.

Eye to the Telescope is an enjoyable collection by an up and coming artist. It’s filled with pretty songs, from the opener through the Radiohead-like “False Alarm” to the Tom Waits-ish closer “Through the Dark.” It is music that has all the markings of success in the same way K T Tunstall has the abilities and looks to reap a financial harvest. I am what’s wrong with the picture because I’m looking for something more in music that’s made by someone who coolly tosses around this much talent. Seems that my instinct just happened to notice it long before my intellect did. Maybe I’m too demanding, or perhaps I’m expecting too much, but in the long run isn’t it the artist’s job to keep the listener interested, perhaps even intrigued? And if I’d rather take out the trash than immerse myself in her music, isn’t that telling, about what she’s accomplished here?

So I can’t recommend Eye to the Telescope, even with its varied positive aspects, but at the same time I’ve got to say that I’m looking forward to Tunstall’s next release, because it seems as if she’s got more to offer than what’s on display here. And then, if it turns out to be more of the same, I’ll be happy to be X’d out of this puzzle. But I hope that’s not the case. I hope that in her next release, a fish on the television seems as natural as black horses and cherry trees, common sense notwithstanding.

The production on Eye to the Telescope is no better, or worse, than you’ll find on most releases these days. The highs are clean, the midrange somewhat undefined and the bass boomy. Plus, it sounds like they’ve scrubbed the life out of it. ETTT didn’t pass the “car stereo test,” since it sounded just about the same as it did on my home entertainment system and my Apple G5. If it doesn’t sound better in my car, something’s wrong. The playing is very professional. Whoopee.

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