Sound — 8
KT Tunstall is sitting in a very good position right now. She's one of few ladies in the pop rock world today that are earning both critical acclaim and a steadily growing fan base, thanks in part to her infectious, bluesy track Black Horse And The Cherry Tree. The anticipation has been high for the next release by Tunstall (who is known for bouncing between playing guitar and percussion during her stage shows), and her answer to the anxious fans is Drastic Fantastic. The record definitely has it's moments and at times does indeed live up to the hype. But while it is a satisfying piece of music, you can't help but think Tunstall has got a lot more to offer creatively than she's letting on. The cover of her latest album Drastic Fantastic shows Tunstall holding a glitzy silver electric, and it's somewhat misleading. Her guitar playing is absolutely up to par, but an electric guitar is not the centerpiece of the album by any means. The acoustic is the name of the game, with maybe a little electric thrown in here and there. This shouldn't surprise fans, though, as her trademark song was driven by an acoustic (in this case, making just as big of an impression as a Les Paul). If you're hoping for the same sort of energetic anthem that Black Horse And The Cherry Tree provided, you're going to find a few too many relaxing moments along the way. The opening track Little Favours is a fairly restrained introduction, although it does feature some of the best vocals on the record. In terms of instrumentation, it's primarily the acoustic and percussion that stand out, and it's what Tunstall does with the vocal aspect that makes the track stand out. In fact, she goes for a little bit of Dido's airy vocal style and it shows off her versatility. In terms of energy, Little Favours lands somewhere in the middle compared with the other tracks. Not surprisingly, the first single Hold On marks the greatest resemblance to her hit Black Horse And The Cherry Tree. It doesn't have quite the novelty that Black Horse did when it first came out, but it's still a pretty fun listen. Most of the other tracks don't match the sound of her singles and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Tunstall is actually at her best when she strips off any unnecessary instrumentation and lets her passionate vocal delivery take over. While the track Beauty Of Uncertainty is the polar opposite to the fun, rhythmic Hold On, it still manages to be the best track on the CD. It actually feels like a throwback to Johnny Cash, with Tunstall deepening her already intense alto voice to suit the haunting track. Even the guitar solo uses an effect that could have fit easily into any Cash song. There's a "real" quality about the song that immediately jumps out from the first note and it would be great to hear Tunstall experiment even more with the old school country style.
Lyrics — 9
While the choruses tend to get stuck in the same place lyrically, the verses rarely disappoint on Drastic Fantastic. She arranges each line in a way to communicate mundane ideas in a new way. Hold On is the perfect example, with the first line showing a nontraditional structure. Tunstall sings, Say you to me; You're a bird with an eye for the enemy shining; Searching the land for a hero of a man. There's a poetic quality on top of it all and her vocal delivery allows every word to be convincing.
Overall Impression — 8
Just when you think you've got Tunstall pegged, she throws something new at you. Besides her nod to Johnny Cash and her usual pop fare, she also has a touch of The Cure in one track. Saving My Face starts out with a fairly straightforward soul feel, but the song continues to build and eventually adds in a guitar part that sounds like a trademark Cure riff. The song as a whole stays true to Tunstall's sound, but it's little touches like the riff that sets the singer/songwriter apart on Drastic Fantastic. It does seem like Tunstall does play it safe for much of the record, although her songwriting does indicate she's got more to offer. She has the ability to go from a sweet, cherubic vocal style to gritty groans, creating some of the most intriguing moments. That versatility shows up many times during Drastic Fantastic and she will hopefully let her inner Johnny Cash out even more by her next release.