A Tindersticks review is a curious thing. It’s more of an exercise in reassurance. If Tindersticks were to branch out into drum and bass, or bossanova, or Stuart Staples were to duet with Lana Del Rey, people would need to know. Otherwise the perceived wisdom would be to write “all is well” and the average Tindersticks fan would know exactly what that means. Stuart is still grumbling, crackling in that dolorous, beautiful croak of his. The music is still laid back, seemingly normal, with those odd pulses of unease lingering in the background. The subject matter is still in thrall to the banal seediness of everyday life. It’s still an evocation of stained carpets. Flickering and buzzing neon signs above deserted kebab shops. Cinema foyers draped in faded crimson velvet, vaguely reeking of damp. Pubs with wonky chairs and chipped glasses. The ordinary desperation of people trying to find some kind of meaning in each other. The City Sickness, as Stuart once observed. It’s a melting pot or ordinary horrors and quiet desperation, soundtracked by these louche, besuited minstrels.
‘Chocolate’ is the opening track, and we’re straight into the Stapes staple; a narrated story of a dingy bedsit and one night stands, meted out in a dispassionate natter (not Stuart, this time). But of course it is. It builds up, from gentle chords to an angry, buzzing sax solo, after which the punchline is revealed. Ordinary perversion. ‘Show Me Everything’, with its springless snare and stabs of female vocals follows a similar curve: instruments and musicians letting go of restraint as the song progresses, until the horns start to howl in the background, like a fight happening on the street just outside the pub you’re in, while Stuart does an impression of an evil Brian Ferry. Every track reveals another layer as it progresses, the tinkle of a xylophone, a subtle swell of violin, backing vocalists to help with the chorus dynamic.
The playing is impeccable. It’s 20 years now since the Tindersticks first took their tiny plays to the boards, and it shows. These days the saxophone is a player, where once it was the violin and strings that would have augured the misery. It makes for a more loungy, debauched feel that of the olden ‘Sticks sound. There’s still strings, vibes and that farfisa sounding organ. There’s still various shakers, sensible drumming. It all sounds magnificent, perfectly produced, and recorded in Stuart’s own studio out the back of his house in the south of France. About as far removed from a vomit streaked, chip littered, fight encumbered hinterland high street on a Saturday night as you might get. And yet, you can hear that it’s the desperate compromises and mistakes that make a Saturday night so tackily cathartic, or the sybaritic symbiosis of a broken relationship that still fascinate the Tindersticks. So there you go, all is well. It’s safe to enter The Something Rain, just don’t be expecting no sunshine. As if you would.