KT Tunstall: Tiger Suit

KT Tunstall surprises with her effective introspective third release Tiger Suit -- a wonderfully diverse and upbeat examination at performance.

KT Tunstall

Tiger Suit

Label: Virgin
US Release Date: 2010-10-05
UK Release Date: 2010-09-27
Artist Website

I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting much from KT Tunstall’s third solo album, Tiger Suit. I wasn’t a huge fan of her debut, Eye to the Telescope, but did enjoy a few choice tracks, such as “Under the Weather” and “Other Side of the World”. Her percussive-heavy, almost A-melodic, songwriting structure wore very thin and continuously bordered the banal. I didn’t even bother to pick up her sophomore release, Drastic Fantastic. However, I’m a firm believer in giving artists second chances -- hey, not everyone can be brilliant all the time. Imagine my surprise when four songs into Tiger Suit, I began to change my tune about Ms. Tunstall.

The album opener, “Uummannaq Song”, is a wonderful tone setter that sounds familiar enough to recall the singer's style, but once that chorus hits where she sings: “I, oh well I could live in this town/Five cold years before I/Yes I could live in this town/Before I head for home”, it’s clear that she’s hitting new highs and challenging her own comfort level. The chorus to “Uummannaq Song” is wonderfully infectious, recalling the '80s pop hits of Luba, Alison Moyet, and Joan Armatriding. The same can be said for the Radiohead rip-off “Difficulty”, and Feist-ish “Fade Like A Shadow”.

The lyrical content suggests Tunstall underwent some life affirming and humbling experiences during the hiatus between Tiger Suit and Drastic Fantastic. Suddenly, she is less concerned with offering spoon fed folk/rock tunes that speak to what she believes you want to be hearing from her, and instead casts her gaze inward. She is mindful to not interject any of the typical arrogance that is standard for many pop/folk singer/songwriters of this decade, but is rather humbly introspective and self-reflexive. This is evidenced in the beautiful lyrics of “(Still A) Weirdo” where she sings: “I'd always thought it's automatic/To grow into a soul less static/But here I am upon the same spot/Attempting to lift off into space/I don't always get it right/But a thousand different ways/And I just might/Pay my lip service/Keep it eloquent/Optimistic but never quite elegant/Still a weirdo/Still a weirdo, after all these years”. Although there is a resemblance to Tunstall’s “Under the Weather”, the vulnerability and earnestness is more pronounced here. She has definitely dropped the pretense and lost the arrogant self-indulgence that assumes her shit don’t stink, and is instead trailing head-first through the infrequently tread path of pensive humility.

In stark contrast to the typical melancholic musical style that is synonymous with deep introspection, Tunstall prefers to drive her personal and thoughtful lyrics with what she ludicrously dubs “nature techno”. Pop is a more concise and appropriate term here, and the singer demonstrates her prowess in this department. She has always been half-halfheartedly pumping out Melissa Ethridge-esque rock, which is probably why her tone in past efforts has always bordered monotony. Tiger Suit kicks down these musical tropes with a little more fierce and suggestive focus than one could have expected from a talent like Tunstall. At some point after the heyday of musically adventurous '90s singer/songwriters, probably after the dawn of internet-savvy music thieves and the restructuring of music distribution, record companies became much less likely to allow their artists to change a winning formula. If an artist sells over a million debut albums, then nothing is to change from one album to the next -- the follow up must sound almost like an extension of the first. It makes for a very safe way to produce music which never really translates into comparable success -- unless you are Taylor Swift.

Tunstall’s Eye to the Telescope hit five times platinum with the aide of successful radio tunes “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” and “Suddenly I See”. Her follow up, Drastic Fantastic, sold only a fifth of that with no memorable radio-friendly tunes. Tunstall’s fan base clearly waned and it seems, instead of driving down that same unprofitable road, she’s decided to re-route her musical career offering new productive elements that we have not necessarily heard from her before. That’s not to say that old Tunstall is completely absent on this third offering, though. Tracks like “Golden Frames” and “Come On, Get In” could have easily and quietly appeared on any of her previous efforts. It’s at this point in the album that I tune out, only to be reared back by the beautifully authentic “(Still A) Weirdo” with it’s human vocal percussive drum programming and swaying pendulum-like chorus. Her delivery is beautifully timed and charismatically sincere. This moment is nicely duplicated on the album closer, “The Entertainer”.

Although Tiger Suit does not dispel all of the monotony and percussion-heavy stylistic song structures that have plagued Tunstall’s desire to be a rock star in the past, there is enough of production shift here to warrant another go around. Tiger Suit has quickly (and surprisingly) become one of my favorite new albums, and deservedly enough. Tunstall has demonstrated her ability to change direction, drop pretense and offer true insight into the complexities and contradictions of life as a performer. We can only hope that she maintains this musical adventurousness and lyrical vulnerability on future efforts.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.