It doesn’t seem unreasonable to observe that there isn’t a weak link in Tindersticks’ discography. Few bands who are twenty-five years into their time together can boast such consistency and the key to it all seems to be a willingness to indulge restless instincts and take the road less travelled when the urge strikes. The low-key soul of ‘Simple Pleasure’ was enjoyably out of step with the end of the Nineties, while the numerous soundtracks to the band’s name almost provides an alternative career trajectory. The knack for subtlety that comes from spending one’s time occupying the spaces in between has served them well of late and is perhaps most transparently powerful on their tenth studio release, which follows the rerecorded retrospective ‘Across Six Leap Years’.
Opening with a beautiful instrumental cover, ‘Follow Me’, which sets a deceptively wistful tone, ‘The Waiting Room’ reveals its true colours immediately thereafter with ‘Second Chance Man’. Gradually evolving from a simmering organ line and skittering, brushed percussion, a burst of brass on the three-minute mark hints at hope for the song’s subject, only to immediately dissipate leaving things on a note of uncertainty. ‘Were We Once Lovers?’ is a bass-driven burst of relentless rhythm, liberal echo applied to Stuart A. Staples’ imperious vocals to further enforce the sense of blurred and incomplete memories in the lyrics. Similarly impetuous is ‘Help Yourself’, a product of a spontaneous rush of blood in the studio, edited into its final form before being dressed in magnificent grandeur by British jazz artist Julian Siegel.
One of the album’s finest moments is also its oldest, dating back to 2009. ‘Hey Lucinda’ is a duet with Lhasa De Sela, an American singer-songwriter with whom the band had previously worked on ‘Sometimes It Hurts’. Her tragically young death from cancer at the turn of the decade made it hard to work on immediately thereafter, but Staples felt it deserved to be finished and it works well at the centre of this set. In the grand tradition of Tindersticks duets, the female vocal is key and De Sela paints the titular Lucinda as someone who’s had enough a lover’s promises.
The title track sounds like it’s being pulled out of Staples, while ‘Planting Holes’ takes the never less than comforting sound of falling rain and pairs it with a twinkling organ melody to heartening effect. ‘We Are Dreamers!’, however, begins woozily but quickly finds its way, evoking a sense of PJ Harvey’s recent work in its arrangement and featuring a fine vocal performance from Savages’ Jehnny Beth. Closer ‘Like Only Lovers Can’ puts the band back on familiar territory, with a luscious warmth to the music that isn’t paralleled in the words Staples delivers over it. It ensures that ‘The Waiting Room’ finishes on the rather uncertain phrase “So where do we go?” As ever with this band, it’s sure to be an idiosyncratic but beguiling direction, although there’s no hurry with so much to pick over on this thoughtful latest outing.
Words: Gareth James
- - -
- - -