Nottingham’s Tindersticks draw on a broad range of influences (from Nick Drake and Scott Walker to Dusty In Memphis and Barry White) with poignant depth, cinematic sweep and enviable perfectionism. That’s great and all, but doesn’t quite explain what has made the band (active since 1994 and always seemingly on the verge of disappearing) so eccentric and endearing. Tindersticks have always stood out from the attention-deficient British music scene by virtue of their humanism. They echo their heroes’ pop classicism without directly striving for their stylish detachment. Tindersticks aren’t afraid to bleed on their wrinkle-free tuxedoes. Their fragile ballads linger like half-forgotten dreams, deeply romantic yet always tinged with regret. Their lush arrangements are often intentionally awkward and sour, transcending OST utility with a nerve that won’t be ignored. There exists no Tindersticks song with a simple, unclouded theme. No filler, no relief.
Gruff, baritone singer Stuart Staples has always been the band’s perfect ego. He intones his complex stories through a throat that sounds tightened by regret and confusion. Even his simplest statements emerge ambiguous and intricate with conflict. He sounds different from every angle. He never quite carries a tune, but he carries every meaningful human emotion at once, and makes the tangle sound a hell of a lot more sexy than the sum of its anguished instincts.
And, with the departure of multi-instrumentalist and creative leader Dickon Hinchliffe, he carries more of The Hungry Saw than any previous Tindersticks outing. Since launching a solo career in 2005 (after completing Tindersticks’ decidedly melancholy ’03 LP Waiting for the Moon), Staples has made no secret of his changing mission. The Hungry Saw contains little evidence of a continuing course for the band; rather, it feels like a lively going-away party, filled with the spirit that always made Tindersticks special, but resigned, relaxed, and ready to drop this aesthetic after a few more bars. Minus Hinchliffe, the arrangements lack the band’s characteristic abundance (“All the Love” is uncommonly spare, even for a T-sticks ballad, and “Mother Dear” almost sounds rushed). They stand on their core composition, some (“Boobar”) more firmly than others (“The Other Side of the World”).
While this may be the band’s Let It Be, it contains a bit of everything that Tindersticks always did well, done with passion and resolve. “Yesterday’s Tomorrows” lacks the old excess, but illustrates that the core lineup can create foreboding, compelling soul without unlimited air rights. “The Turns We Took” is the sort of carefully modulated ballad that Bacharach would want. And the threadbare “All the Love” includes a wordless backing vocal that aches like the space between the end and the weeping. England’s most defiantly rococo pop group can make a richly detailed record without really trying.