First impressions may not be everything, but they're certainly important. This week, I'm listening to three recent purchases for the first time, and blogging my initial thoughts, track-by-track. After a solid showing from AWOO on Monday and a slightly disappointing first glance at Tallahassee by The Mountain Goats on Wednesday, it's time to round off First Impressions Week with a listen to Curtains, the third full-length album by Tindersticks.
I'm already a pretty big Tindersticks fan, so this album does have a slight advantage over AWOO and Tallahassee. Where those albums were bought on the strength of one or two songs, Curtains is the latest in a long line of 'Sticks albums I've stumped up for; I knew more or less what I was getting when I bought this, and the worst thing it can really be at this point is a bad Tindersticks album. That said, it's also the only CD of my First Impressions trio which doesn't contain a single song that I've already heard. Anything could happen, so let's get on with it...
- Another Night In
I'm curious to hear this one, because according to last.fm, it's their most popular track of all time. It kicks things off with a nice orchestral flourish, so that's promising. Actually, the strings are the best thing about this; the brooding piano line is cool, and Stuart Staples is in good voice, but this would never be their most listened-to track without those big, dramatic strings. A pretty good start, though.
- Rented Rooms
This is interesting. It's got a slightly Spanish feel to it. Yeah, I really like this; the strings are still toting a lot of weight, but not nearly as much as in track one. The string guys even step back to let some brass poke through towards the end. "Through the doors of that rented room." How cool does that bit sound? One to nod your head to.
- Don't Look Down
After that menacing but still reasonably upbeat second track, it sounds like we're heading into slightly darker territory on this one. Clicking waltz rhythm and, yep, a healthy slice of stringwork, which becomes utterly all-encompassing around the two-minute mark. And then it drops down again. I wasn't sure about this one to begin with, but the loud bits are really awesome, scaling dizzy heights from practically nothing. 'Don't Look Down', indeed.
- Dick's Slow Song
We've got atmospheric organ sounds, we've got some slightly aimless glockenspiel, we've got Stuart Staples all the way in my left ear. Frankly, you can probably glean a pretty good impression of this song from the title - it certainly is a slow song. There's a second Staples in my right ear now. This is making me slightly uncomfortable. The musical backdrop is pleasant but not much else.
- Fast One
Getting a bit lazy with the song names, eh Tindersticks? Unsurprisingly, this is pretty much the polar opposite of Dick's Slow Song; where that was plodding and inoffensive, this one is pulsating and screechy. Oh, and short, apparently. That was fun.
- Ballad of Tindersticks
Ah, it's one of their famous spoken word tracks. It's not really a ballad, is it? And while I don't mind a bit of spoken word, I don't see that this is in the same league as Tinderstick speak-songs like My Sister and Chocolate. The story isn't as engaging, and nor are the sounds behind it. This seven-minute roadblock will be quite annoying on future listens, I don't doubt.
Much better. Soft, sparing, but instantly affecting, this puts me in mind of Leonard Cohen, for one reason or another. And it doesn't outstay its welcome, unlike the previous non-song. Lovely.
- Let's Pretend
Another slightly Spanish-flavoured moment, this. The strings are back at the forefront of things, although it's the glorious, spaghetti-Western brass that rides into town at about 2:20 that really steals the show here. It's sort of a shame that it just fades out after that, but blimey - that bit will be hard to top.
- Desperate Man
In fact, they're not even going to try. This is a laid-back, clip-clop song, not really aspiring to much but giving us a nice little rest from all of the drama. There's some sweet sax music playing in the background, there. It's not a lighthearted song, really - just look at its title - but it certainly feels more jolly than the songs that preceded it. It reminds of Just a Dog from Waiting for the Moon.
- Buried Bones
Ooh, a duet! I love their boy/girl duets! This is kind of similar to Travelling Light, the duet from Tindersticks II, but that's certainly no bad thing. It sounds a little happier than that song, for what it's worth; not nearly as sinister as its title suggests. The strings are prominent as ever, although the dual vocals actually manage to outshine them on this occasion.
"I'm a tired, hungry bear/Spoiled and sleepy." As Tindersticks songs go, this one's actually quite good fun; a tooting organ parps out a waltz, and Stuart Staples croons about...I don't know, dressing up as a bear, possibly?
- (Tonight) Are You Trying To Fall In Love Again
This is another one that's among their most popular tracks, and another one that's taken to another level by its string arrangement. This album is actually a lot like AWOO, in that it wouldn't be half as good had the violin never been invented. I wonder why Tindersticks eventually started to concentrate less on the string section? It certainly gives their music an extra bit of bite. Anyhow, this is good, especially the chorus/title drop bit.
- I Was Your Man
Talk about your average Tindersticks song. Bells and glockenspiels abound, along with a dragging 3/4 drum beat and a gloomy-sounding bass underneath it all. Stuart Staples pushes his vocals a little higher than usual here, mind, so that's something. This actually has something of the Eels about it, particularly the outro.
Oh my. Who'd have thought that a song called 'Bathtime' could sound so ready for action? That low, low piano line is infectious, and we get another taste of sweet Tindersticks brass. There's even a cool call-and-response bit in the chorus, where the string and brass sections have a little conversation with each other. I'm loving this one - it really does sound like it's raring to go. I wish every song had an orchestra behind it, although if that were the case, it would kind of ruin the impact of the songs that already did.
Fifteen tracks is a lot, isn't it? But I've thoroughly enjoyed this album; where AWOO and Tallahassee confounded my expectations to varying degrees, this one gave me everything I wanted and plenty more besides. This song isn't all that interesting, incidentally - if it were, I might be talking about it rather than summing up my thoughts on the album as a whole. Hold on, though, because it sounds like the stringed instruments are slowly swooning their way in for one last hurrah...or perhaps not. Nothing much happened there, but I suppose it works well enough as a quiet, slightly creepy closer.
That's just about it for First Impressions Week. It's been quite good fun, actually, and I'm excited to look back at these three blog posts in a little while and seeing how much my opinions have changed. As I mentioned on Wednesday, I'm already far keener on AWOO than I was at first, and even Tallahassee could well win me over in the end. We'll have to wait and see!