Friday, February 5, 2016

Tindersticks Come Back Fighting

It's been a while since I listened to The Something Rain, Tindersticks' last proper studio album, but it doesn't stick in my mind as one of their best. If memory serves, the album was pretty well-received when it came out back in 2012; several reviewers even suggested that, as a follow-up to the disappointing Falling Down a MountainTSR represented a big return to form.

However, I personally had two big problems with this assertion. Firstly, I *love* Falling Down a Mountain (goodness knows why some folk were disappointed by that album), so even if The Something Rain had been the best album ever, I wouldn't have seen it as a 'return to form' so much as a continuation of the winning streak that the 'Sticks were already on (and had been on since The Hungry Saw, which is also excellent).

But then, that was the other issue: as far as I was concerned, The Something Rain simply didn't live up to its immediate predecessors, nor to the glowing reviews that I had read prior to purchasing the album. Sure, it had a few excellent tracks (namely Show Me Everything, This Fire of Autumn, and Slippin' Shoes, and sometimes Frozen depending on my mood), but it also bore quite a bit of dull, ponderous - dare I say it? - filler.

Okay, it's sort of tense and atmospheric, but did this track really need to be 7 minutes long? It sounds like DVD menu music. And what follows isn't really worth waiting for - Goodbye Joe is a short instrumental track that, while pleasant enough, doesn't really serve much of a purpose, and then that's the album's over. Talk about your anticlimaxes.

For me, The Something Rain felt like a bit of a let down. It had too many soft, unhurried songs, it leaned far too heavily on dated-sounding drum machines, and it felt like a bland mid-morning snack compared to the sumptuous banquets that preceded it. It's weird, because I usually prefer a short album that leaves me wanting more to a long album that leaves me feeling satiated, but if I may swap my food metaphor for a sex metaphor, The Something Rain kicked me out of bed while I was still wriggling out of my jeans, whereas Tindersticks I, Tindersticks II, Curtains, The Hungry Saw, et cetera fulfilled my every desire and still found time for a nice cuddle afterwards.

Yes, I'm equating The Not Knowing - the heart-stabbingly sad denial ballad that closed Tindersticks I - to a spot of post-coital spooning.

Tindersticks released a new album, The Waiting Room, last month. Not counting Across Six Leap Years, which didn't actually contain any new material, The Waiting Room is Tindersticks' first new album since The Something Rain, and I must admit that my feelings (or lack thereof) towards the latter LP had me somewhat concerned that the new'un would feel like a let down too.

I needn't have worried. Sure, The Waiting Room isn't perfect, but practically everything I disliked about The Something Rain has vanished. Instead of go-nowhere plodders like Come Inside, TWR has ass-kicking funk/soul elements (Help YourselfWere We Once Lovers?), dramatic, exciting duets (Hey Lucinda, We Are Dreamers!), and an instant Tindersticks classic (Like Only Lovers Can) to close. Even the instrumental tracks (especially This Fear of Emptiness) are better than they were last time around.

The Waiting Room, according to Tindersticks' own website, was borne of "a huge pile of ideas"; the finished record is "essentially made from a collection of first or second takes of shared moments, gently edited down and embellished". As a result, The Waiting Room sounds a lot more colourful, a lot more interesting, and - most importantly - a lot more alive than The Something Rain, a warm, well-made album that ultimately proved unable to affect me the way most Tindersticks albums do.

Some parts of The Waiting Room don't quite work; I'm not a huge fan of the title track, and while it's wonderful (albeit in a sad sort of way) to hear Lhasa de Sela's voice again, I think it will be quite a while before I love the strange drama of Hey Lucinda as much as I love the more straightforward swoop of Sometimes it Hurts. However, listening to these odd bits is still a lot more rewarding than sitting through the more humdrum stretches of The Something Rain - when all's said and done, I'm grateful to Tindersticks simply for allowing themselves to come off the rails every so often on their new album. The Waiting Room thrills far more often than it alienates.

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