KT Tunstall – Eye To The Telescope

It’s early on a Sunday morning and my head is throbbing from the night before. I need water, I need greasy food, I need to steal the TV guide from the newspaper much to everyone’s disgust, but most of all I want to go back to sleep and forget that the world exists – even if it’s only until midday.

I reach for a pile of CDs lying precariously on top of a pile of (unread) books (which I swear I’ll get around to some day). The first to fall into my hands is KT Tunstall’s Eye To The Telescope. I gingerly put it into the stereo, press ‘play’ and am greeted by some piano tinkering and acoustic strumming. “This is nice,” I think – and then I am hit with a stunning voice. It sings

“over the sea and far away
she’s waiting like an iceberg
waiting to change
but she’s cold inside
she wants to be like the water.”

The drums kick in and a lush, falsetto-laden chorus of “you’re the other side of the world to me” is almost epiphanic. Even though I don’t know anybody on the other side of the world.

I’ll be honest: I didn’t know much about this Scottish singer-songwriter before picking up the album. It hasn’t been released locally, and although she’s big in the UK, for some reason this album has escaped Australia’s collective attention apart from a few sporadic spins on Triple J’s Roots’n’All program. But, to get you up to speed:

KT is 29 years old, but looks no more than 21. Judging from her press photos, she has a penchant for conducting photo shoots with tousled hair. The cover shot even features her in mid-tousle. 

This is her first album. It was produced by Steve Osbourne – yes, the same Steve Osbourne who has also worked with U2, New Order and The Happy Mondays.

Eye To The Telescope is 12 tracks of perfectly produced, wonderfully executed pop music. Opener Other Side Of The World sets the tempo for the album – all guitar and piano based pop. But the music merely seems to be a vehicle for Tunstall’s remarkable voice. A cross between Cat Power and our own Sarah Blasko, from the coyness of Miniature Disasters to the technicolour “na-na-na” pop of UK single Black Horse And The Cherry Tree, she sounds as if she’s effortlessly recorded her vocals after spending a day sleeping in and shopping. There are no overdubs, no vocal effects – just warm, raw vocals from somebody with an obvious gift.

The gentle Silent Sea, which threatens at several points to shift out of first gear (first gear being soft guitar and vocals so soft they’re almost whispered) but never does still manages to sustain the listener’s interest for four minutes. The grammatically-frustrating Universe & U puts the drums from We Will Rock You through a processor as Tunstall promises

“there’s no need to hide away
you know I tell the truth
we are just the same.”

Elsewhere, the uptempo alt-country twinges of Suddenly I See complete with singable chorus to appease commercial radio could render it a single. Even cheesy lyricism, Heal Over’s line of “come over here baby, let me wipe your tears away” are surely stolen from the next Brian and Delta release, right?) can be overlooked when it’s being sung by somebody with a voice like hers.

Should KT Tunstall have a lesser voice, Eye Of The Telescope would still be a good album – full of sharply written pop songs which never allow themselves to be overwhelmed or outweighed by unnecessary or excessive instrumentation. But the combination of the strong songwriting with Tunstall’s voice makes the album so much more.

For the record, the hangover went away quickly..