There’s something beguilingly perverse about the nakedness that comes in when KZ sings, raspy and expressive, rife with its own character. She’s more than an interpreter who fakes dramatic conceit with note-perfect emotions. If in real life she’s indeed a happy person, she seems to extract the opposite on recording: one song she can be that grand dame articulating brutal confessionals of withered love with preciseness and crackle, the other she channels hopelessness with a vulnerable bluesy snarl that renders it the more heartfelt.
While the last two decades have brought along modern torch singers who have relied so much on copying the melismatic drawl of Mariah Carey and went to as far as imbibing the artificial power belting of divas Regine Velasquez and Celine Dion, none was as original and chilling as KZ Tandingan’s gritty soul, which surprisingly her producers at Star Records bankrolled on at their own (profit-making) risk.
Dressed up with organic but modern production that conveys her authenticity, KZ Tandingan’s self-titled debut album is an actual thing of beauty and pain, a straight-up commercial record riddled with soul siren feistiness, power ballad swoon, and jazzy, lighter-than-air bounce. Unlike her contemporaries, KZ’s strength lies on how she convincingly interprets these spirited songs that we can all relate to, into something bigger than life with fervor and fire. She also makes it a point to go beyond plaintive emoting, owning moments within songs word per word, sometimes struggling to move out from the emotional attachment. “Puro Laro” seems fit in this mold: a big soulful ballad that casts KZ as the scorned lover who wants to get things right. Backed with a soaring chorus that pierces the heart even further as it builds and blasts, the song challenges its listeners to hear and feel the pain her way. Same can also be said on “Bakit Lumuluha”—a wounded follow-up that for all its earnestness reveals all that can be found in every failed relationship.
Another standout, “Un-Love You” shows KZ Tandingan holding on to a confidence-joltiing weeper with a rockier edge that brings to mind Kelly Clarkson or Pink. Here, she sounds pissed at a controlled pace, but as the power chords, dramatic strings and crashing drums overlay in the chorus, you’ll notice the intensity that she interweaves into the grit, almost battling the ferociousness of every bleeding note with hint of irony and sarcasm.
Despite having the tendency to go for melodramatic overkill, the producers, headed by Jonathan Manalo, made it a point to expose KZ’s versatility as a singer, throwing in some lite-Motown twirl on “Love Love Love,” neo-bossa on “Umiibig,” and poignant piano ballad on “Scared To Death.” In another singer’s hands, this might seem like a heavy undertaking, a sugarcoated fluff lacking the emotions and attitude to pull it off. KZ proves that she can knock down these show-stopping songs and make it rather difficult for anyone to break into her level. B+