Monday, November 11, 2013

The Rise and Decline of KT Tunstall and Avril Lavigne—or Not?

Is this girl just relying on crazy eye shadow to drive record sales? (Image from Amazon)


The best laid plans...

I have to admit, I had this post planned a few months ago. I was going to write about two female pop artists who had exceptional debuts in the early 2000s, Avril Lavigne with Let Go (2002), and KT Tunstall with Eye to the Telescope (2004). I loved both of these albums and have followed the careers of both of these artists ever since.

And then, I was going to write about that despite both their great starts, I've been mostly disappointed with everything since these debuts. For Lavigne, the only good songs on her second album were clones of the best songs from the first album. Her third album was a complete departure from her previous material in a direction that I didn't like. And strangely, it’s not just Avril’s music that has suffered, but her words, too, even though she wrote all the words for her first album. As for KT Tunstall, I bought her subsequent two albums, but decided later that they were both mostly forgettable. Forgettable as in, it is hard for me to name or hum any songs from those albums even though I own them and have listened to them many times.

And then I was going to bring up that both KT Tunstall and Avril Lavigne recently released new albums, Tunstall in August with Invisible Empire/Crescent Moon, and Lavigne with the eponymous Avril Lavigne this past week. I was supposed to lament about the quick rise and decline of both of them on their release of yet more mediocre albums.

...can go awry

With Tunstall, I can stick to my original intent. Her new album is mostly blah, with a bunch of slow, mopey, strumming-guitar prominent, forgettable melodies. Though there are some nice fleeting timbral moments, more than anything else these only seem to try to make up for lack of substance elsewhere. She almost rises out the stupor with "Feel it All," but even this song doesn't quite make it to the energetic/relevant surface. The album's failure was the last straw for me; I've given up hope that she'll ever rise to the level of her first album, and I can only guess why her output has come up short.

I predicted that Lavigne's new album would send me the same message as Tunstall's. But I can't say that. Though I've only listened to the iTunes Store samples so far, I think Avril Lavigne may be her best album since Let Go. I can't say that I personally loved it and want to buy it; some of her musical and lyrical directions are not my cup-of-tea, but that doesn't mean it isn't good music. The album accomplishes what it was meant to. She's constructed some powerful ideas, emotions, and personas (note the plural) for this album, all wrapped up in pretty good music, and it really comes out (in great variety) in the final product. On the other hand, I should have guessed that Lavigne might have a comeback. I failed to mention her fourth album, Goodbye Lullaby, in the previous list—I think about half of the songs on it were pretty good. So the quality of this album should not have been the surprise it was.

The moral of this story is...

What do I think is the lesson to be learned about all of this? Collaboration. Avril Lavigne is at her best when she's working with someone else. All the hits on her first album were co-written by a music production team called the Matrix (I have no idea why they split ways). On Avril Lavigne, she worked mostly with her now-husband and member of Nickelback, Chad Kroeger. Having partners in crime really brings out her best work (though I'll still pine about her and the Matrix splitting up). Maybe that's what Tunstall needs, too.

I don't plan to write a full review of Avril Lavigne, but if you are curious, this track-by-track Billboard review is pretty good.

Did you like Eye to the Telescope or Let Go? Have you listened to either of these new albums? Any thoughts?

timbral, music production


  1. More or less, he is stating: fiery remains to slag, clean to tidy. Path before his time, Shakespeare in Macbeth made an agnostic character far before the idea of skepticism appeared. While Macbeth's message is that life has no centrality, he positively expresses the words essentially. Now and again in the play, we don't know whether occasions are truly happening, or the results of Macbeth's brain.