12 Aug 2007: The former folk busker has metamorphosed into a slinky pop sensation. And she’s all the better for it, thinks Amy Raphael.
Katie Tunstall was born to write songs for Radio 2. If she were a stick of rock, the word ‘pop’ would appear at both ends. Her debut album, Eye to the Telescope, sold nearly four million and made her a star in Britain and America. Her Harlesden home probably has an extension for all the awards she’s won.
Tunstall’s story is a romantic one – part of the Fence Collective in Fife, nominally led by King Creosote; busked in Edinburgh and hosted acoustic nights; couldn’t get a deal for years because she was ‘too old’; finally signed and became a global success – but where next? ‘I wanted to be braver,’ she says of the second album, whose title is apparently a reference to her new comic-book life.
She also wanted to capture the raucous energy of her live shows on record. Yet Drastic Fantastic feels neither brave nor raw; Steve Osborne, working with Tunstall for the second time, has produced an album of flawless pop hits. Which is not particularly a criticism – it just suggests those years of busking are far, far behind her now. More importantly, KT shows an incredible feel for melody and really sounds as though she’s had fun with these songs. The first single, ‘Hold On’, even opens with Wham!-style euphoric clapping before moving into sexy, Hispanic quasi-Shakira territory.
If there’s a lyrical theme it’s about finding the strength to move on. On ‘I Don’t Want You Now’, which starts like a Jam song, boasts a Concretes-style Swedish pop vocal and which Tunstall calls ‘Kirsty MacColl doing “Teenage Kicks”‘, KT sings: ‘Please don’t ever let me down again/ It shouldn’t be allowed.’ Despite the frustrated sentiments, this is not an angry song. Tunstall may do sad, but angry and edgy are not her thing.
Drastic Fantastic moves from the jangly guitar, vocal harmonies and power pop of ‘Little Favours’ to unashamed indie love song ‘Funnyman’ and the kd lang simplicity of ‘Hopeless’. By ‘Beauty of Uncertainty’, which runs at just over five minutes, Tunstall has turned to sultry, intimate vocals set against simple bluesy guitar-picking. But you can’t keep a great voice down: folky bit out of the way, KT soars and swoops to the finale. Drastic Fantastic is bursting with so many hits that Tunstall’s comic-book life is about to go stratospheric.
Download: ‘Hold On’; ‘I Don’t Want You Now’; ‘Beauty of Uncertainty’