Twelve years after the release of debut album Eye to the Telescope, Scottish chanteuse KT Tunstall has come to terms with being a pop star. Radio hits and the accompanying fame seemed at odds with her style, a solo acoustic musician backing herself with a loop pedal, but if there’s one thing pop audiences crave it’s attention-grabbing hooks, and Tunstall has always had those in spades. After trying to hold down her pop sensibilities over the past four studio albums, Tunstall embraces them on her sixth studio LP KIN.
With a bit more of a sheen and more uplifting lyrics, KIN is Tunstall’s feel-good album, a departure from the slower, melahcholic Invisible Empire // Crescent Moon. A greater emphasis on pop does not mean the album skimps on artistry, though. Tunstall’s distinct percussive strumming style, evocative husky voice, and playful nature flow throughout the eleven tracks.
“Hard Girls” begins the album with that familiar KT Tunstall flavor, with its thudding acoustic riff, driving backbeat, and sing-along chorus. “Evil Eye,” with its insanely catchy riff and primal rhythms, would have fit well on 2010’s more aggressive Tiger Suit. The song is part kiss-off, part motivation to a self-absorbed lover who is “the poster boy for falling in love with yourself.” While criticizing him for his selfishness (“Carve out the parts of me you don’t deem worthy of your love”), she also shows a desire for his growth. “Gonna get lonely,” she warns. “Let the light into that crack in your shell.”
The shimmering mid-tempo pop of songs like “Run on Home” and “It Took Me So Long To Get Here, But Here I Am” are given extra weight with Tunstall’s raspy vocals and intricate melodies, but they don’t live up to the level of excellence Tunstall established earlier in her career with songs like “Miniature Disasters” and “Hopeless.” “On My Star” is one of KIN’s quietest and most introspective tracks, with Tunstall singing of running away together and embracing a simpler life. “Say it happened and we bid farewell to our home and watch the coastline retreat like a memory,” she sings.
Two years ago, Tunstall walked away from the music scene and considered her career to be over, but eventually a desire to create new music took over. It’s not surprising that the resulting album would be a pivot, both from the brooding of the previous album and from the fiery energy of her earlier work. While KIN doesn’t quite reach the greatness of Tiger Suit or it deftly blends the disparate influences of folk and pop into a sound that is more radio friendly but still has something to say.