ALBUM REVIEW Tunstall plays dress-up
Tiger suit ventures into experimental sound, but stays catchy
Virgin Records US
Released October 5
If “Suddenly I See” conjures up the lipstick-and-heels world of The Devil Wears Prada, then “Uummannaq Song” invokes a different kind of fierce. KT Tunstall’s new album Tiger Suit opens with the rattling and echoes of mysterious campfire rituals. Then an unmistakable voice breaks in: “Hold your fire / I’m coming out and I’ll tell you the truth.”
The truth? Tiger Suit is said to be named after a recurring dream that Tunstall has had since childhood, in which she sees a tiger laying down outside, sometimes even in her own front garden. After approaching the tiger and stroking it (the tiger is, apparently, rather tame), she goes back inside and realizes that it was dangerous to get so close to a tiger. After a while, it occurs to her that the tiger might not have attacked because she herself was dressed in a tiger suit.
This Tiger Suit, however, is just as much an excuse to play dress-up as it is a protection from the wild. Tunstall has never been one to fall into the trap of conventional pop, and while her taste in oversized stripy sweaters may be somewhat similar to Andrea Corr’s (cf. Ten Feet High), that is where the similarity ends. Tunstall’s distinctive, harsher voice leads to a more successful marriage between synthesizers and the lyrical. Tiger Suit definitely has a different sound from previous albums, but its experimentations with so-called “nature techno” is not much more than the addition of multiple layers that somehow manage to incorporate both catchy refrains and remnants from busking days in one album.
After the tribal intensity of “Uummannaq Song” comes “Glamour Puss,” whose heavy use of synthesizers and techno beats is tempered by strategically timed intervals of whistling. “Push That Knot Away,” while of a more familiar style, has a primal undercurrent supported in part by the two-string guitar riff and strong bass guitar lines. “Madame Trudeaux” experiments with a harder-edged, talking style of singing. And if anybody ever missed the old songs, “Come On, Get In” is a variant of “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” with a little bit of “Hold On” thrown into the mix. The delicately layered “Golden Frames” provides a much needed break from the, well, more difficult, “Difficulty” with a haunting style reminiscent of something that would have gone into Acoustic Extravaganza.
Underneath these experimentations with different sounds are the lyrics that thread the album together. The complex layering does not matter so much as long as Tunstall’s quirky lyrics continue to come through. In “Glamour Puss,” Tunstall announces that “Baby juggles fire in a blindfold / Riding a motorcycle / Through a hula-hoop but it / Sounds like dust on your record / You’re showing the pressure of doing loop-de-loop-de-loop.” (After seeing Tunstall don cowboy hat and moustache in the “Polite Cowboy” interlude of her How to Make a Tiger Suit video, I wouldn’t want to miss seeing her rock out on a motorcycle).
Tiger Suit may not sound like the Tunstall of Eye to the Telescope or Drastic Fantastic, but its lively personality does show maturation in style. As the lyrics go in “(Still A) Weirdo,” “I’d always thought / It was automatic / To grow into / A soul less static / But here I am upon the same spot / Attempting to lift off / Into space.” Perhaps a lift off into space hasn’t quite happened, but the tiger guise is satisfying enough.