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KT Tunstall - Invisible Empire//Crescent Moon (Album Review)

Wednesday, 12 June 2013 Written by James Ball

Let's start with a promise. If you buy this album and put it on your CD player, deck, iPod, or whatever, and listen to it (actually listen to it), it will change your life.  

A few years have passed since KT Tunstall's electro experiment 'Tiger Suit', and she's refused to float meaninglessly on to the next album of a recording deal. There's been a lot going on since her last full-length outing, and she pours every ounce of heart and soul she has into this incredible thing.

During the various stages of this album's production, Tunstall dealt with the death of her father and the end of her marriage. Her father had been the inspiration behind her seminal debut 'Eye to the Telescope' and while some people would have retreated into a shell and put all plans on hold, for her the process gained new purpose and the record became a fitting tribute.

The first thing to notice about 'Invisible Empire//Crescent Moon' is how stripped-back the songs are. This is, musically, as simple an idea as it gets. All we've got are acoustic guitars, a little piano, subtle drums, and Tunstall's trademark folk-tinged vocals. She can soothe anyone with her delicate melodies and careful wordplay and the album's opener, the dainty yet dark Invisible Empire, is a perfect example. Tunstall delivers lines about burning down a house and jumping into the fire as if she’s reading a bedtime story. It’s passive aggressive, but charming with it.

Made of Glass is a slow, personal affair. The opening line alone illustrates her fragility, as she sings: “Fire me in the oven, until I get hard enough to deal with losing you”. It’s difficult not to shed a tear during the final repeat of the chorus, when the rest of the band get just a little bit louder, a little bit more intense, and a little bit more emotional. Two songs in, and it's not an easy listen. This is an album for people who just need someone to cry with. It’s about letting your feelings out, and by the time the album ends, you feel much, much better for it.

Yellow Flower is a highlight and captures the mood perfectly. The song consists of nothing but Tunstall's voice, a little piano and some strings. It’s a song designed for the lyrics rather than the music, and they hit you where it hurts. It’s a celebratory song, but there are clues as to what lies ahead. A couple of jarring minor chords are interjected at points that prick your ears up, and everything’s not quite right despite the positive lyrics. Then, the final line of the final verse comes at you: “As if by magic it’ll make me ever warmer, even after you’re not here.”

It gets very dark during Crescent Moon, which occasionally follows a similar line to Yellow Flower with some jangly piano, before electric guitar drone adds a level of tension and drama similar to Pink Floyd's Time. It doesn’t last for long, but it’s just another little thing, another ingredient in an album crafted with emotion as its central theme.

Feel It All is, at face value, a moody, funky blues song using some clever chords and harmonies. Electric guitars are used throughout the album only in context, rather than as a staple, and nowhere is that heard more clearly than here. Feel It All is not so much a title for the song, but an instruction.

“All I want is to be everything to you,” Tunstall sings to open Honeydew, the album's standout penultimate track. It sounds like it should be a jaunty little tune, and in many ways it is, but some of the minor chords, as well as the use of clarinet, euphonium and tuba, add a discreet sadness.

There’s nothing discreet about No Better Shoulder, the album’s closing track. It’s five and a half minutes long, but only contains four lines, repeated over and over in harmony above an offbeat acoustic guitar. To repeat them would take away from their impact upon first listen, but there’s not a single person who has lost someone who won't be able to relate to them.

Invisible Empire//Crescent Moon will make your life a little sadder for 50 minutes, but it's a cathartic ride. There’s an awful lot to relate to here, a lot to help you if you have ever lost anyone, or are in the process of doing so. KT Tunstall touches a lot of nerves here, but she’s made an album that is essential.  


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