Artist: Tindersticks                             Release Date: October 1993
Label: This Way Up Records                Running time: 1h 16m (double album)

Stuart Staples (vocals)
Al Macauley (drums)
Dickon Hinchliffe (guitar)
Dave Boulter (keyboard)
Neil Fraser (guitar)
Mark Colwill (bass)
Album recorded & mixed May 1993
Arranged, Engineered & Produced by Ian Caple & the band
Martin Harman - Oboe
Rosie Lindsell - Bassoon
Ian Bishop - Clarinet
Terry Edwards - Trumpet, Soprano Sax
Background :
      The band began as Nottingham’s Asphalt Ribbons in 1990 with Staples, Boulter and Hinchcliffe. Later, they reformed as Tindersticks in the summer of 1992. Their first 7" single, "Patchwork b/w Milky Teeth"', was released on their own label, Tippy Toe, with only 500 pressings. It sold out within two weeks. The band quickly followed with another single, Marbles, a limited edition 10" which sold out within one week. Next, 'A Marriage Made In Heaven' (on Rough Trade) grabbed Single of the Week in NME. Three months later, ‘Unwired’ followed suit, taking the favoured single in Melody Maker. By the end of the following year, MM named their debut the album of the year, pushing out such offerings as Nirvana & Pearl Jam (whoever they were).
      Finally, the band signed a contract with This Way Up records and the first Tindersticks album was released the summer of 1993, when the worst of insipid brit-pop was drowning out just about everything else. The music surfaced with barely a ripple, most North Americans to this day having never heard of them. However, this speaks volumes for the music itself, sounding a bit like early Scott Walker collaborating with Ennio Morricone, or a double-helix blend of mysterious, foggy tenderness ~ imagine something like Nick Drake & the Bad Seeds (had Drake been a two pack a day man).

Would I put it on at a party? How does it rock?
      Without doubt, well, for a certain type of party, of course. The first two self-titled Tindersticks LPs are fantastic musical accompaniment to any number of mature, hedonistic pleasures. I've hosted probably a dozen get-togethers of my own to these records in the past decade ('course I've probably only had that many parties). But you’ll need a lot of subdued illumination to get the effect right - even candlelight, or a nice roaring fire if you can manage it. I’d recommend strong gin drinks, neat Irish whiskies, or multiple bottles of a heady Burgundy. Medium/old cheddar or even Stilton, tart apples, baguette, by the loaf (to be torn, not cut). And you'll have to ensure at least one of your guests is chain smoking clove cigarettes, otherwise you’ll never manage the appropriate level of forlorn debauch ~ which is roughly the atmospheric trajectory of the music. It's that kinda party...

What’s it sound like though?
      Let’s just say Mr. Staples does Nick Cave better than, well, Nick Cave on this first album1 - if you can imagine a baroque, gracefully orchestrated Tender Prey, or maybe Frank's Wild Years with a full-string section instead of calliopes & washboards. Staples’ voice is a baritone that alternates between grim as granite and pure syrup - and the songs chronicle over a solid hour of dysfunctional relations, crumbling hearts, bad moments and botched jobs. Sound cheery enough for you? There are funereal Hammond organ solos and whispered foreboding lyrics aplenty, mind you, they just sound leaps more heart-felt and nothing like a shtick (particularly true of the 1st 2 LPs, though by the bands’ third, they’ve begun poking fun at their own miserablism).

Anything else I need to know?
      The bands developed a fairly credible working relationship with French auteur Clarie Denis, having provided scores for two of her films to date for Nanette et Boni and Trouble Every Day.2 Again, this is an excellent indication of what the songs are like as musical set-pieces: brooding, reflective and dramatic.3 The band’s also notoriously disinterested in press, eschewing photo sessions and North American venues for smoky cafes across Spain, France and Italy. Invited to do a cover shoot after their first single, Staples reputedly told Melody Maker, "If I was that desperate to be on the cover of your magazine I'd be sitting here in a fucking dress" - it had already worked for Evan Dando and Kurt Cobain that year.

Say, for the sake of argument, I love the record? What else might I try?
      I would, if I were you, get the Amsterdam live E.P. and the second album post-haste. Then, you’d have to decide, now that you’re in love with the band, whether you have the heart to hear them change - because on ‘Curtains’, the next record, they get considerably ‘lighter’.4 Horn sections play increasingly prominent roles on the records, as do Spanish samba sounds, crooning and more traditional ballads.
      If that sounds like a bad, as opposed to refreshing direction for you, then I would suggest instead The For Carnation’s Marshmallows or Arab Strap’s latest, besides the obligatory mention of early Waits, mid-career Cave, or recent Dirty Three, etc. The Songs:
1. Nectar - 2:40       ~Maudlin melancholic bit of burned-out romance : ‘My letters sit on your window-sill/ Yellowed by the sun/ Written that time / our love was in its prime’ ~
2. Tyed - 4:11       ~A creeping, perilous tableau about a young lady tie-dying sheets with human blood, played dastardly with manic maracas, screeching guitar, drunken horns and clamourous zither to great effect ~
3. Sweet, Sweet Man Pt. 1 - :41       ~ "A sweet sweet man like me/ I can only bring you misery" ~
4. Whiskey and Water - 5:51       ~ Malevolent, half-slurred ballad, set to guitar & strings that circle round the chorus like vultures, as Staples positively grumbles off most of his lines ~
5. Blood - 4:52       ~ A downbeat, sorrow-stricken waltz which you can imagine being sung at a wake for a sunken ferry full of newlyweds ~
6. City Sickness - 4:00       ~ Astonishing lament for an exiled lover, this bluesy bit sounds like it might have been hatched over triple gins and Dunhill, riding a train through a rainy afternoon, head pressed against the glass ~
7. Patchwork - 4:40       ~ ‘'s a swirling ocean / The green: the ambition / The red is the guilt / There's a lot of red ~
8. Marbles - 4:30       ~ Another Hammond-propelled piece, this one a brilliant, smoky soliloquy about a love triangle that finally ends in a morbid accident - ‘You saw your life as a series of complicated dance steps’ ~
9. The Walt Blues - 1:08       ~ Carnivalesque noodling ~
10. Milky Teeth - 2:52       ~ This jagged track plays like Diary of A Seducer set to a rollicking samba - “You say you love me when I'm sleeping/ It's the sleep of the innocent / But in my sleep, I'm still faking / If you could only see what that meant” ~
11. Pt. Two - 1:05      
12. Jism - 6:03       ~ Carnivorously dark ballad of jealousy, co-dependence, dangerous obsession, self-destructive addiction and all the other hallmarks of true love - ‘How do I know where you are tonight? Need these paper cuts/ Need those gravel grinds/ Need those pinches to wake me’ ~
13. Piano Song - 2:40       ~ Quite a topper to the implosion of the previous track, this one features all the hallowed exchanges of a couple rendered incapable of talk by time, drink & stigma - ‘You know I can laugh ‘til you’re almost through’ ~
14. Tie-Dye - 4:00       ~ Alternate version of 2nd song ~
15. Raindrops - 6:15       ~ Epic piano centred dirge about a romance gone empty & cold with age - ‘a tired love, a lazy love’ ~
16. Pt. Three - 1:44      
17. Her - 3:29       ~ Like Nick Cave’s witty self-send up in Wings of Desire, this one’s pure adrenaline-fired melodrama, opening with the mellow strum of Spanish guitar, then suddenly exploding into a violent staccato, spaghetti western serenade ~
18. Tea Stain - 2:07       ~ Break time in the funeral home basement ~
19. Drunk Tank - 4:44       ~ A single, perfect encapsulation of the records’ ethos as a whole: guilt, regret, mourning, self-hate. Listen to the way the piano sounds like a percussion instrument near the middle of the song, to the point where it sounds as if there’re things breaking. ~
20. Paco de Renoldos Dream - 4:22       ~ A surrealist spoken-word monologue, filed with noir-ish dream images & mysterious repetitions which builds, collapses, and then inexplicably becomes for the last minute a set of free-association clues - “Warped door, Embassy No. 6, ashtray /We would conceal ourselves in the missing light `till darkness fell’ ~
21. The Not Knowing - 4:58       ~Tender suspicion ~

1 I apologize if Cave’s over-the-up gospel-styled theatrics haven’t been annoying you since Let Love In ~ though subtlety never really was their strong suit was it? This record has just a slightly lower body count than Murder Ballads, but doesn’t resort to quite that level of homicidal overtness.
2 Last year’s gut-churning controversy at Cannes, the film’s the heart-warming vampiric tale of a cannibalistic couple drugged out of their gourds. The title is based on Frank Zappa’s Trouble Comin’ Every Day and the Tindersticks reworked his song for the soundtrack as well as much of their own material. People still walked out on the movie though.
3 If you like comics, try reading Hellblazer’s Fear and Loathing run by Garth Ennis while listening to anything off the first two eponymous albums. I suspect you’ll see what I’m talking about.
4 Staples even records an ironic duet about a grumpy rock star and flighty actress’ love affair on the 'Curtains' record, and recorded it with Isabella Rossellini (whose apparently a fan).

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