With their roots in Nottingham (as Asphalt Ribbons) before locating to London and becoming Tindersticks, this is a group that feels like it’s the independent music scenes best kept secret of the last 25 years. They don’t have a typically indie sound, there’s a lot more ‘art’ to Tindersticks, as evidenced by the fact that apart from ten studio albums they’ve also sound tracked numerous movies, art installations and exhibitions. They have a boozy back alley underground sound, with Stuart Staples distinctive vocal either leaving you in the ‘one of the great singers’ or ‘the man can’t sing’ camp, very rarely taking the middle ground. If you can’t make your mind up, then listen to Stuart sing ‘Hushabye Mountain’, the Sherman brothers ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ standard that was recorded for Tindersticks side project ‘Songs For The Young At Heart’ nearly ten years ago. Oh yes the man can sing.
So what then of this, Tindersticks official 10th studio album? Opener ‘Follow Me’ has a glorious cinematic feel (the songs melody is from Brando’s 1960’s version of ‘Mutiny On The Bounty’ and the album is accompanied by a film project, a short film for each of the albums tracks’). It’s a countryside instrumental betraying its recording in the bands studio in Staples current home of Limousin in France. It was the last song recorded for the album, recorded as a scene setter before the heavily treated vocals of ‘Second Chance Man’ drop you straight into the action, it’s an arty sub jazz recording, singular in pace but very affecting all the same. ‘Were We Once Lovers?’ is driven by its flowing bassline, and provided a clear link to the previous Tindersticks albums, intertwining art, indie and soul elements sublimely.
‘Help Youself’ blasts off with a southern soul horn fix (there is immaculate brass throughout this album). It’s a song that was spontaneously written and recorded very quickly, it sits on a basic rhythm and feature an effortless and perfect vocal. ‘Hey Lucinda’ was first put together in 2009 and features Lhasa de Sela on vocals, who sadly passed away from cancer soon after that recording, someone that band has admired and worked with previously. Finishing the song off for this album and they’ve truly done her justice. Centrepiece, ‘Fear Of Emptiness’ is another instrumental, and bookends the two half’s of the album sweetly. ‘How He Entered’ is a spoken word/instrumental piece that harks back to early Tindersticks glories. Proper spoken word songs can be cheesy, but this is anything but, it sounds like its spoken out of choice not through a lack of ideas, and hints of loneliness, sudden arrival and departure and renders the spoken vocal as a proper song. It’s cool and catchy.
Title track ‘The Waiting Room’ also features a previously used Tindersticks trick, vocal gliding over a sparse solo Hammond (augmented only by fleeting minimal percussion), the vocal fragile and vulnerable. It’s downbeat and miserable but this is a main reason that so many people love Tindersticks. If music was to only soundtrack our highs, then music would not be very interesting. ‘Planting Holes’ is a piano and paella pan instrumental, no kidding. The opening is the recorded sound of rain falling onto paella pans, and the subtle piano complements this nature enhanced sound perfectly. ‘We are Dreamers!’ features Jehnny Beth of Savages. It’s a moody, rhythmic, voodoo enhanced jazz shuffle. It’s wonderfully Tindersticks even if the band in its youth may not have been ready to do this, there is a line that goes right back through their recording career running through this song. That’s the beauty of a band evolving slowly throughout the years, allowed to develop their art without the pressure of supplying a never ending stream of hits, and ultimately this is where the music business needs to get back to if the buying public are to remain engaged by the album as an art form. It’s why we should value bands like Tindersticks.
The album finishes with ‘Like Only Lovers Can’ and sounds as sweet as the title suggests. Lyrically though and questions are still being asked, no resolutions in life or love are offered. It’s another side that the band are so masterful at, the lilting sweet soul that you’d never think could be offered by the same band as their deeper darker moments. And that’s it. The album feels brief, not lightweight, but not giving us enough. It’s a mighty fine latter day Tindersticks album. The band have only ever had one top twenty LP in the UK charts (1995’s second album reached no.13) and those heady chart days are gone. You could however look beyond that and if you’ve never done so before, investigate Tindersticks through this record. It’s a beaut.