Some things I agree with
(or not as the case may be)
Friday, September 14 KT Tunstall and her (great) album's Drastic Master
KT Tunstall's music was a bit of a late grower on me, but I really enjoy listening to her voice and her all-round musicality. Plus she's Scottish, and I have a bit of a soft spot for her. ;) Anyway, like any true music tech student, the first thing I do after I get the (limited edition gatefold with bonus DVD!) album back to my house is crack it out of the packaging and stick it in the computer, rip to PCM audio and go analyse the mastering in Audition.
I was a bit disappointed; I could hear it was a loud master right from the off but within two seconds of Track 1, we have digital clip on the left channel. The tracks are very well engineered (as you'd expect from any second album under the EMI imprint) but they're ALL TOO LOUD!
Put it like this: WHEN YOU HAVE SOMEONE TRYING TO CONVEY A DETAILED, POETIC MESSAGE TO YOU, BUT THEY'RE SHOUTING IT AT 90dB FOR AN HOUR, IT GETS A LITTLE TIRING.
Get the message? Fortunately the RMS (the 'perceived') values aren't too high, but they do peak quite high, a bit too high for this kind of music. Plus there's audible pumping at certain times due to the radio-friendly compression, but it's a very clear mixdown which leans in its favour. Her voice is well placed in the mix, the backing vocals are just a smidge too high in the mix for me though, but the clarity and tonality of the guitars is the deciding plus point.
One of the slightly disappointing (but to be expected) aspects of this second album is its obvious 'studio' quality. It's a little to clean, a little too crisp for me, a little too sanitised. Her first album, Eye To The Telescope, was recorded at NAM Recording Studios - just a few miles away from where I lived, and grew up, for almost 15 years, in a small village called Holt (near Trowbridge, Wiltshire). For more info, see the Bath Venue Musicians' Studio Guide pages. If you ever see video footage of the setup, you can see how much more of an intimate setting it was when compared to a larger pro studio, and how the acoustic of the small performance space really lent itself to her musical and performance style. Her first album is a really gorgeous piece of studio work as much as it is a musical work of art, and her second album suffers from the bigger budget - the bigger, in-house recording studio contracts will have made sure of that (she will have been told to record at xyz venue as EMI have a contract with them for job lots of studio time, most likely). This is unfortunate, but I guess there's not much we, the listeners, can do about it.
My one regret with Drastic Fantastic? Her voice has too much reverb on it at times, and it sounds a little too polished (even when holding album 2 up against album 1!). Though, I suppose if you've listened to her first album as many times as I have, and had many hours to scrutinise its every little feature and peculiarity, nothing will ever sound the same unless it was recorded in the same venue then mixed and mastered by the same producer and engineer respectively. Still, there's not much to complain about at all with her second album. It's a great toe tapper, and it has enough radio-friendly tunes to give Tunstall (well, EMI) a decent amount of radio play for promo purposes whilst keeping the album-centric listeners (like me), who couldn't give a flying barrel of monkeys about her chart placement, happy with the same kind of content as we received in the first album.
Even taking into consideration all the different influences factoring into the sound of KT Tunstall's second album, it's still a great disc, and I don't feel like I've been ripped off by buying it - a problem which often plagues me post-purchase! (Buyer's guilt? Realisation that I've been mugged by buying awful quality music that shouldn't, by rights, have even been pressed to disc and published? heh.) Done right though, there's a lot to be said for the back-room-studio-recorded album, and Eye To The Telescope is testament to that! Drastic Fantastic compares favourably, and Tunstall's deliciously soulful voice is a treat to listen to. Annoyingly, the ASLAP (AS Loud As Possible) syndrome has struck again at the mastering stage, most likely thanks to EMI saying "LOUDER, WE NEED LOUDER BECAUSE LOUDER EQUALS BETTER" at the mastering engineer. Shame, because the whole point of CDs in the first place were that they could preserve a larger dynamic range than vinyl, thereby allowing more musicality to come through in the recorded tracks. I bet the master tapes (well, master Pro Tools sessions ;) sound far more dynamic than the end result on CD, but I guess we'll never know for definite.
Top tip: if you prefer the "Unplugged" KT Tunstall, check out her Acoustic Extravaganza album (which I like to think of as album 1.5), it makes a great listen if you like her stuff.
And the super-shorter version of my review? Well, it's a three-worder: buy on sight. :)