Given that the two hit singles (“Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” and “Suddenly I See”) from her debut album lingered well beyond their sell-by dates thanks to their insipid American Idol covers and placement in rom-com trailers, it’s easy to forget that KT Tunstall’s Eye to the Telescope only hit U.S. shores in February of last year. So, at least by modern standards, it’s a pretty quick turnaround for Tunstall to release Drastic Fantastic, but the timing seems poised to work in her favor. For her sophomore effort, Tunstall plays up, in its better moments, the strong melodic hooks that elevated her debut above similar adult-pop offerings from Corinne Bailey Rae and Liz Phair. And, as she did to great effect on “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree,” she gives her songs structures that, at least on Adult Top 40 radio, can pass for quirky and edgy. Lead single “Hold On” is easily the album’s standout in that regard, with a contrapuntal finger-picked guitar figure maneuvering through some emphatic handclaps, but there’s also noticeably less filler here than on her debut. The mid-tempo cuts, in particular, still have enough bite to them to shake many of the unfavorable Dido comparisons that she has drawn. Tunstall is one of the more distinctive singers to emerge on the mainstream pop scene in a minute, and tracks like “White Bird” (which recalls recent Ani DiFranco) and closer “Paper Aeroplanes” give her the opportunity to show her range and unique sense of phrasing. A definite improvement on her solid debut, this is also a more polished record that should continue to build upon Tunstall’s success, especially in the markets that finally started playing the rock-tinged pop singles from Pink’s I’m Not Dead. The only thing working against Drastic Fantastic, really, is its lame title.
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