Monday, September 21, 2015

Tindersticks I vs. Tindersticks II

Most bands only release one self-titled album, but Tindersticks - narcissists that they are - released two: one in 1993, and another in 1995. The first one was adorned with a painting of a woman in a red dress, the second with a black-and-white photo of the band's guitarist, but both covers bore the same eleven letters, and the band wouldn't release a non-eponymous studio album until 1997's Curtains.

When Tindersticks afficionados talk about these two albums, they eliminate any potential confusion by referring to the red dress album as Tindersticks I and to the black and white album as Tindersticks II. What nobody can quite agree on, however, is which of the two albums is superior; I've seen arguments for both sides, and today, I'm going to throw my 2p in as well.

If you'd asked me a few weeks ago which Tindersticks I prefer, I'd have chosen the second one in a heartbeat. Tindersticks I, though packed with great songs, has always felt a little bloated to me, and there have been times when I've found myself unable to listen to the whole thing in one go - it's a banquet too rich to easily devour in one sitting. Tindersticks II is only about seven minutes shorter than its older brother, but it feels much more digestible, offering the listener a far clearer and more streamlined journey from start to finish.

It's also the subject of this lovely song, written by Quiet Marauder for Songs About Albums: Volume 1.

However, I've been listening to Tindersticks II a lot over the past week or so, and I'm beginning to see where the people who prefer Tindersticks I are coming from. Perhaps it's the monochrome artwork, but the second album seems to lack the vivid colour of its predecessor; Tindersticks were obviously beginning to find 'their' sound by 1995, and while this helped them to produce a more cohesive LP the second time around, it did mean that the genre-hopping gumbo of album #1 was never to be repeated. The urgent flamenco of Her, the wonky indie of Nectar, the dark, psychedlic swirl of Tyed and Jism...all of these varied and fascinating sounds had either been watered down or erased completely by the time Tindersticks II saw the light of day, and as much as I love that record's swooning, widescreen feel, I do wonder if it might have been even better with a couple of curveballs thrown in. You've got the odd, squalling Vertrauen tracks, I suppose, but these are mere interludes rather than the meat of the album.

All of that having been realised, though, I still think I prefer the black-and-white album to the red dress album. The songs that make up Tindersticks II may be a bit less colourful than their forbears, but they're also a lot classier, a lot more ambitious, and a lot more fully-formed than anything on Tindersticks I. And where the debut simply seems like a hodge-podge compilation of every song the band had written by that point, Tindersticks II feels far more considered, as if it has a proper story to tell. That always scores big points in my book.

Tindersticks II is also the album with Mistakes on it, and while this fact alone goes a long way to securing my preference, that song's presence is representative of an even bigger point in the second LP's favour.

With the absolutely stunning example of closing track The Not Knowing (as well as Raindrops, which tellingly would have sounded more at home on Tindersticks II anyway), Tindersticks I doesn't press my emotional buttons anywhere near as adroitly as its homonymous follow-up. From the kitchen-sink tragedy of Tiny Tears to the 'let's turn this trainwreck around' resolve of No More Affairs, from the subtle stirrings of Travelling Light to the ludicrously over-the-top misery of My Sister, from the simple sadness of She's Gone to the high drama of the aforementioned Mistakes, Tindersticks' second album was made by a band who knew how to emote far more effectively than the rag-tag group who committed Tindersticks I to tape. Put simply, Tindersticks II makes me feel harder than Tindersticks I, and for that reason I think it will always be my favourite 'Sticks LP.

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