"My hands 'round your throat/ If I kill you now, well, they'll never know." Dickon Hinchliffe may be talking to a character he created, but he may as well be addressing you directly: that's the effect Tindersticks have. Even their gentlest moments can grab and startle you, and their fiercest always overwhelm. These six sad Englishmen have always been beyond classification; you've never heard anything like them, and the things you could compare them with-- Scott Walker, Serge Gainsbourg, spy film scores, Leonard Cohen, an apocalyptic bar band-- don't make for an easy description.
Their last two albums settled back a bit from their sharply confrontational, uniquely miserable trio of early works, albums whose sheer brilliance and distinctiveness the band are unlikely ever to match again. A readily identifiable R&B influence unexpectedly came to the fore in recent years, and though it suited them nicely, I was admittedly a bit worried about Waiting for the Moon, which could have very easily seen them losing the plot and slipping into formula. Instead, it resynthesizes everything they've done before, and emerges as a cohesive work mirroring the straightforward format of Simple Pleasure and Can Our Love..., all the while pushing the music in bolder directions than either of those albums.
The fact that Dickon Hinchliffe (the band's violinist and orchestrator) sings the first song comes as a bit of a surprise, though not an unpleasant one. He sounds kind of like Witness' Gerard Starkie, and his tenor is a good foil to the more familiar, foggy baritone croon of Stuart Staples. Opener "Until the Morning Comes" is a subtle lullaby, riding David Boulter's tinkling keyboards and a sweeping string arrangement and never rising much above a whisper despite the violence that crops up in the lyrics.
Staples takes the lead back on "Say Goodbye to the City", which is a tense, brooding grind of violin, syncopated drums, droning bass and minimalist guitar that explodes into gales of dissonant strings and frantic trumpet-- it's their most harrowing song since 1997, and it feels great to hear them back in this territory. Staples turns to a deadpan spoken narrative on "4.48 Psychosis", as the band builds a steadily boiling drone around him, letting drummer Alasdair MacCauley splatter jazz over his rock beat while Hinchliffe's violin coats everything.
Tindersticks are still pretty heavily set in their soul phase elsewhere, as on "Trying to Find a Home" and Hinchliffe's gorgeous "Sweet Memory"; the way the songs sit on the album, you can just feel the group constructing them, letting the pieces fall together naturally. The title track is a pensive music box of strings that gives Staples a perfect bed to shine on-- his vocals are probably one thing most likely to drive someone away from Tindersticks, but once you've acquired a taste for it, his deeply soulful gutter croon becomes a salve for all the worst emotions.
"Waiting for the Moon" is just what I needed from Tindersticks: an album that doesn't abandon their recent direction, but breathes new life into it by drawing breath from their noisier past. They may operate below the radar of hype and trends-- especially in recent years-- but for whatever public ignorace, Tindersticks are one of the best bands going today. I'm more than happy to have their hands 'round my throat.
— Joe Tangari, July 9, 2003 (© Pitchfork)
01. Until The Morning Comes (3:34)
02. Say Goodbye To The City (4:29)
03. Sweet Memory (4:29)
04. 4.48 Psychosis (5:12)
05. Waiting For The Moon (2:51)
06. Trying To Find A Home (5:43)
07. Sometimes It Hurts (4:38)
08. My Oblivion (7:00)
09. Just A Dog (3:27)
10. Running Wild (4:14)
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