This Tindersticks article was written by James Dawson, a GIGsoup contributor
For over twenty years Tindersticks have been odd and compelling, always bringing you back with the feeling that something more was going on than you first sensed. They seemed more at home closing out the harrowing penultimate episode of The Sopranos with their toe-curling instrumental version of “Running Wild” than in the company of any of their contemporaries. People tried to apply labels, ‘chamber pop’ was normally what they went for, but it was the refraction of light between that dignified appearance and the disgust lurking in their music that was so appealing. Most of all it was in the way Stuart Staples’ hesitant, acrid voice floated in and out of the stately music like smoke.
And so it remains on “The Waiting Room”, their eleventh album. Like many of their albums it’s patchy, over the course of 11 tracks there are experiments they don’t pull off: instrumental interludes that don’t quite deepen the bleakness the best songs build; a duet with deceased singer Lhasa De Sela that’s a nice idea, but not much more than that; the overly sensitive timidity of the closer “Like Only Lovers Can.” The string sections of previous albums have been replaced by horns, often delivering just the right note of moody noir (“We Are Dreamers), but sometimes, as on “Help Yourself”, so precisely orchestrated they become overbearing.
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But there are more moments that stick. Songs that fester, and gnaw away like the best Tindersticks songs always have done. Starting with the atmospheric, harmonica-lead “Follow Me”, an aura of unease sets in even before the diseased lounge-jazz of “Second Chance Man” with Staples’s hushed, echoed voice muttering “Give me a second chance man” over and over, with greater impact each time. The strings return on the wonderful “How He Entered”, a soft acoustic guitar, isolated piano notes moving in a circle, the horns, holding back this time, shadowing Staples’ distant, half-spoken vocals. With its meticulous, detached description of one mysterious man entering a room, the song takes the album’s sense of discomfort to its deepest point, there’s the inescapable feeling of something dreadful having happened between the point that he entered and the point at which the song began.
This aura of doom is fleshed out on the penultimate track “We Are Dreamers.” The song builds from a droning guitar and faint, rattling drums to a pitch of shuddering intensity, with Staples and guest vocalist Jehnny Beth growing ever more frantic as their voices wind and overlap. There’s that same misery permeating the song, a terrifically unpleasant, True Detective-esque sleaze in the way Staples sings the lines “Come inside, there’s nothing left here/Just a table to dance on and a song you might hear.”
“The Waiting Room” may not be the immersive, atmospheric suite that Tindersticks intended, but at its core are songs as powerful as any they’ve ever written. More than twenty years into their career they continue to produce eerie, unique work.
‘The Waiting Room’ is out on the 22d January 2016, via City Slang / Lucky Dog