Whenever I think of Tindersticks, their stunningly creepy song ‘My Sister’ plays in my head. I love its perfectly controlled spoken word narrative where the intimacy of the dark story of a dysfunctional family is at odds with the expansive orchestral backing.
But that was a long time ago; 1995 to be precise. It was a track on their second, eponymous album; the band’s most successful release, peaking at number 13 in the UK charts.
Now, almost a quarter of a century on, and over three years since their last album proper, comes the band’s twelfth full length release. Not surprisingly, the line-up has changed significantly over this time but the brooding, soulful baritone of Stuart Staples remains a constant to ensure a sound that is reassuringly familiar.
Nothing of Staples’ emotional intensity seems to have faded much either even though he now writes song lyrics in Ithaca, Greece rather than Nottingham, England.
The lush melodies are intact too thanks largely to bassist and multi-instrumentalist Dan McKinna who contributes string/brass arrangements and piano parts throughout the album.
The declared aim in these ten new songs is to capture a sense of immediacy. It was recorded in five days in Midilive, Paris and it took just five weeks to arrive at the full mastered version. Notwithstanding this, there’s nothing hasty or slapdash about the finished result. Precision and controlled tenderness are still the touchstones in tunes that explore the raptures and ruptures in a ceaseless quest for love and beauty.
Putting a positive spin on the band’s cult status, the City Slang label’s PR team depict Tindersticks as “trend-averse explorers”. Staples himself is under no illusions about the impact this new collection is likely to make, conceding: “We’ll never be a young band again, or flavour of the month.”. But, undeterred, he’s still looking to create something fresh and new. Of Pinky in the Daylight, he says: ”this is my first pure love song, which came as a surprise to me.”
For the most part, Staples looks squarely at the world as it is, not as it once was. On No Treasure But Hope,the title track, there is sadness rather than cynicism over the fact that there is “no love on our streets, only fear in our hearts”.
Only when facing up to the inevitability of ageing does he hint at some nostalgia and regret; “take me to that man I was”, he sings plaintively on Tough Love.
On the plus side, a fresh maturity means that personal relationships can be explored without rancour or blame. On The Old Mans Gait, for instance, he observes, without bitterness, an emotional connection with his father that was “Neither kind or unkind, neither absent or present.”
Only one song adopts a wider, more global perspective. The tongue-in-cheek sprightliness of See My Girls is viewed from the humble point of view of a man working on a newsstand who receives pictures from female travellers which he sticks up behind the cash till: “they see the world and send it back home”.
Aside from this. details like the flickering of a candle and melancholy reflections of life’s fleeting pleasures are mostly couched in introspective terms.
Yet, through it all, this is the sound of a band which is not content to merely go through the motions or waste time looking backwards. It’s good to hear that Staples is still full of optimism saying that ”the last 10 years have probably been the best 10 years of the band.”
Tindersticks are in this for the long haul and, though there be monsters in any treasure map, hope persists.