Review Summary: Still Making Asses of Themselves
At this stage Tindersticks are an act so long-lived and with such a varied back catalogue under their belts it can be difficult to recount just how many traditional albums they've released. It's a discography peppered with full length soundtrack works, compilations of reworked material and most recently a musical companion piece to an art installation. This inclination towards highbrow artistic side projects shouldn't come as a surprise, from the very start their albums featured lengthy instrumentals and spoken word narrations, and so it can be argued a filmic quality is in the band's very DNA. There has however been a marked change recently as the Tindersticks' soundtrack and traditionally song-based work has begun to blur, reaching a head on this their latest release, 'The Waiting Room'.
Since the band regrouped in 2007 it's as if each subsequent album has seen a further layer of lyrical detail stripped away; where once it felt like you'd digested a series of short novels after listening to a Tindersticks album now it feels like less and less has been tangibly communicated. On 'The Waiting Room' single lines of lyrics are repeated, others feel patched together, and most deal in foggy abstractions. Bizarrely, for a band who forged their reputation on verbosity and a poetic bent, Tindersticks have arrived at a place where their lyrics are now a secondary concern. You'll find no 'Blood' or 'Patchwork' here; the same lost souls and scorned lovers are still present and correct in their work, sighing and artfully puffing on cigarettes as they always did, only now they barely bother to verbalise their thoughts.
This album's predecessor 'The Something Rain' had flashes of soul and a sultry groove underpinning it; this album does away with the warm tones and foot tappers, instead building the songs around light jazz and skeletal atmospherics. This musical approach gives off the air of someone adrift in their own nostalgic reverie whose memories are now blurring and untrustworthy. The emotions conveyed here are little more than faint echoes of past feelings; even the conventional duet 'Hey Lucinda' feels less a song in it's own right than a drunken half-dreamt reimagining of 'Travelling Light' from way back in '95. This same quality bleeds into the album as a whole; take for example 'Second Chance Man', it's the spit of so many previous Tindersticks songs only now the vocals have been filtered so Staples voice possesses an otherworldly 'not of this moment' quality.
The restrained nature of this material leaves the album crying out for a star turn of some sort to ground proceedings, a show-stealing appearance from the man-donkey in the suit no less; fittingly he takes to the stage to a song titled 'How He Enters'. This is another track that can be considered a follow up of sorts as it boasts the same elliptical style of arrangement as 'Marbles' from the debut, with the phrase 'wide-eyed' popping out at a key juncture in both. Providing further excerpts to demonstrate the excellence of the lyrics would be a worthless exercise here as every single line is like manna from a depressive's heaven; make no mistake this is the sort of song to make grown men openly weep in the street such is its melancholic splendour. This track by itself goes a long way towards elevating the album to the level of a 'must listen' for existing fans.
That this is the sleepiest album of their career is impossible to deny; every song here carries the air of time winding down, whether it's last orders at the jazz bar or the final dance of the night in God's very own waiting room. This would make for a terrible sales pitch for any band other than the Tindersticks, but in their capable world-worn hands there's never any doubt they'll succeed in delivering that familiar welcome hit of subtle sad-sacks song craft. While 'The Waiting Room' unquestionably falls short of the band's 90's masterpieces it can nevertheless be chalked up as yet another recent modest success for the enduring Eeyore's of rock.