Propelled by the success and saturation of “Suddenly I See” and “Black Horse & The Cherry Tree” KT Tunstall has remained a fixture of the UK post-folkie scene, releasing consistent albums since her 2004 Mercury Prize-nominated debut, Eye To The Telescope. With 2016’s KIN, Tunstall released the first in a proposed trilogy of albums centered around the spirit, body, and mind. Written in the wake of her divorce and her father’s passing, KIN was all spirit, making the newly-released WAX the body entry.
“Wax evokes colonies of bees, candlelight, the material that the first long-playing records were made of”, Tunstall explained in a statement about the album, “but more than that, wax is produced inside your own head. You unconsciously create it.” To compliment the idea of a body left to its own devices—the primal cravings and instinct-based behavior—Tunstall shot for an equally visceral sound, declaring it an “electric guitar record,” and enlisting Nick McCarthy of Franz Ferdinand to produce.
“Little Red Thread,” kicks things off in this spirit with her usual swagger—the kind of stomping, strutting energy at the center of her most-famous songs. But when the next two songs (“Human Being” and “The River”) have the same, four to floor, kick drum beat, it loses some of its oomph. “The River,” a song about emancipation and clean slates, survives this misstep by changing things up with a more interesting song structure and a softer sound, but “The Mountain” tries for funk and a sexy off-kilterness, and instead sounds like a less-engaging Florence + the Machine—even with the flute solo. It isn’t until “The Healer (Redux)” that things finally feel cool again, the grunge-y, chunky guitars giving way to Tunstall’s feral howl, “You’re the healer.”
The rest of the album feels much different, as the “electric guitar record” gives way to poppier, singer-songwriter fare. “Dark Side Of Me” centers on a sticky-sweet hook and played-out sentiment, and “The Night That Bowie Died,” though elegant, has no hint of the imagination of the artist that inspired it. Except for the lived-in and real “Poison In Your Cup,” an excellent track that deftly captures the complex emotions of seeing an ex-flame out in public while showing off Tunstall’s best asset: her voice. The remaining tracks blend into each other and don’t show much of the badass attitude presented at the beginning.
It’s a well-crafted album with variety, conviction, skill and Tunstall’s husky, muscular, soulful voice navigating seamlessly between singer-songwriter, pop and fuller-bodied rock. She’s consistent, and there’s nothing terrible here—it’s just not terribly exciting either. As for the spirit, body, mind trilogy idea, it’s an interesting and inventive concept, but one that’s not really executed here. The “body” through line isn’t present in most of the songs, and a great deal of the music isn’t very body-response-inducing either. What Tunstall seemed to be shooting for doesn’t quite show up here.
Watch KT Tunstall’s Paste Studio session below: