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Over produced, but brimming with promise
on 2 January 2005
This Edinburgh-born lass first came to my attention during an October appearence on 'Later With Jools Holland.' What particularly grabbed me was a terrific performance of 'Black Horse and the Cherry Tree', for which Tunstall recorded and looped sounds, whilst playing, ingeniously building up a sound that was not only infectious, but kind of unique. Remembering that performance fondly, I purchased this, her debut LP, on something of a whim.
First, the 'Jools' performance is included on this record as a bonus track. It's brilliant (it's almost worth the cover price alone) but it is also something of a red herring. Not one of the eleven other tracks on the album come anywhere near to matching its eccentric charm. Instead, the record sounds very much in the tradition of female singer-songwriting, meaning that it largely consists of familiar, acoustic soft rock and folk. I purchased the album expecting to hear something a little more unusual, so the conventional feel of most of the material was rather disappointing upon first listen.
That said, there are certainly some fine songs here. 'Silent Sea' is a lovely mix of defiance and fragility and 'Under The Weather' is tender and beautifully melodic. I can hear a lot of Aimee Mann in both songs, which is perhaps why I reckon they are the best two 'proper' (read, not 'bonus') tracks on the record. It's also no coincidence that both songs have very minimal arrangements (simple acoustic pick riffs) that allow Tunstall to show there's some nuance and beauty to her voice. 'Flase Alarm' also deserves mention for being the best lyrical effort as well as being, along with opener 'The Other Side Of The World', a definite 'grower.'
Elsewhere the material can be quite frustrating. 'Miniature Disasters' and 'Universe & U', for example, are both songs that I suspect sound a hundred times better when performed live. The guitars would sound nowhere near as vapid and, if allowed to cut loose vocally, I imagine Tunstall would inject them with some much needed passion and urgency. On the record, heavy-handed production renders them ordinary. Also infuriating is 'Through The Dark' which has some terrific lyrics but, courtesy of a dull piano arrangement and an ill-judged vocal, ends up sounding like sub-par Norah Jones. 'Stoppin' The Love' and 'Heal Over' just sound utterly banal.
Overall, I'm glad I bought this record. My gut instinct is that Miss Tunstall has quite a lot of talent. I would jump at the opportunity to see her perform live, since I reckon all these songs would sound better if stripped of their production gloss. It will be interesting to see how this record fares commercially. Some critics seem to think 'Eye To The Telescope' may be 2005's first sleeper hit. Perhaps this is because, at a casual listen, Tunstall seems a little similar to Dido and Katie Melua, two artists who gradually shifted millions with their middle of the road gunk. I'd much rather listen to Tunstall than those two, although whether she'll be as successful is anyone's guess.