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Tindersticks - Across Six Leap Years

Posted on Thursday, 17 October 2013 | No Comments


For an industry that prizes the immediate and the ephemeral, rock'n'roll sure does love an old timer.
For all its reputation as an art form out to antagonise authority figures the world over, the elders of popular music, by and large, thrive on quite the reverse. Be it the ongoing commerical bandwagons of the Stones or Fleetwood Mac or icons like Tom Waits (and, to a degree, even more underground figures like R. Stevie Moore), going grey has become second only to death itself in canny career moves. Just lie low while the backlash scorches the earth, and pop up from the bunker a few years later to mop up with the lucrative tours and compilations that surely await.

Nottingham's finest sons the Tindersticks released their self-titled debut twenty years ago this month. A gargantuan, double-vinyl statement of intent, while a rougher and more rock-orientated collection than the work that would follow it still established many of the band's calling cards: David Boulter's keyboard and organ playing, luscious bursts of strings and the wounded, trembling baritone of frontman Stuart Staples. Since then, there's been twenty years of up-and-down commerical fortunes, line-up changes and most importantly - the reason why they remain such a compelling act two decades down the line after all - the numerous superb records they've released since. The mid-nineties pairing of Tindersticks II and Curtains were grand, ornate affairs that brought them great critical acclaim, while last year's The Something Rain was a vindication of their decision to re-form around a new line-up and one of 2012's most enthralling records.
While they may not be bothering the charts much these days, the loyal following the band maintain (alongside a good bit of industry decorum) means that that lovely round number of twenty cannot be ignored. Not, it should be noted, that Tindersticks have ever come across as remotely careerist or mercenary in their art. But when confronted with a package as awkward as Across Six Leap Years, an album of re-recordings of songs across the lifetime of the band that largely avoids the 'hits' - no Patchwork, Tiny Tears or Can We Start Again here - but neither dwells exclusively on the obscure nor offers major overhauls of the tracks. Instead, we have this curious collection of ten tracks as played by the current line-up at Abbey Road designed purely for those who already have every inch of the Tindersticks back-catalogue enscribed on their memory.

David Boulter has described the concept as "not so much about righting past mistakes or inadequacies, but more about the power of now", but if so, this now-ness is only a subtle shading effect. For some songs, it's hard not to feel that the definitive reading took place the first time: in describing the "defiance" at the core of the new take of Dying Slowly, Stuart Staples unfortunately hits on why it doesn't hold the same sullen hold as the Can Our Love... original, while neither She's Gone nor A Night In benefit from the more restrained performances found here. That said, this subtlety does have its upsides. Simple Pleasure songs If You're Looking For A Way Out and I Know That Loving are fine showcases for the fine latter-day rhythm unit of Dan McKinna and Earl Harvin, while Say Goodbye for the City from Waiting for the Moon trades the original's claustrophobic squeeze for a more open, racing arrangement that easily outpaces the earlier recording.

The main meat of this collection, such as it is, rests on its induction of two solo Stuart Staples tracks and one rarity into the Tindersticks canon proper. Opening duo Friday Night and Marseilles Sunshine, both originally from Lucky Dog Recordings 03/04, offer a startlingly hushed introduction to Across Six Leap Years. Marseilles Sunshine in particular really blossoms in the new Abbey Road arrangement: the minimalism and stillness of the composition is left entact, but the subtle orchestral swells that ebb in and out of the track means that this must surely be taken as the definitive take over the unfinished-sounding solo rendition. Closer What Are You Fighting For?, originally slated for The Hungry Saw but only released as a tour-only single, makes for a welcome new lease of life for this small-scale triumph. Powered by Boulter's chiming piano line, it's a charming track that pushes on past the violet hour where so much Tindersticks material resides towards a stoic, hopeful dawn and a song certainly deserving of the wider audience it should now hopefully reach.

As a set of ten songs, Across Six Leap Years is a testament to the enduring power of Tindersticks - including material from overlooked records like Can Our Love... and Lucky Dog Recordings 03/04 - and a highly ejoyable listen that offers yet further confirmation that the present line-up is more than up to the task of pushing on with the legacy left by the original sextet. The aftertaste of an opportunity missed does still linger however: the prospect of more radical re-arrangements, or of a greater dip into rare Tindersticks material would surely have been more of a treat than the collection we received. Given the success of last year's The Something Rain and the recent release of their soundtrack for Les Salauds (their sixth collaboration with director and writer Claire Denis), it's clear that Tindersticks are still dedicated to moving onwards, and as such Across Six Leap Years ultimately reveals itself as an ornate, pleasurable but inessential bauble, a birthday present to the band that they made themselves.

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