The sound of a band rediscovering themselves.
Andrew Mueller 2010-01-15
Falling Down a Mountain, Tindersticks’ eighth album, is the sound of a band rediscovering themselves. Its immediate predecessor, 2008’s The Hungry Saw, felt an afterthought. That record ended a five-year hiatus during which it seemed – judging by singer Stuart Staples’ budding solo career – that Tindersticks might have ground to a terminal halt. In and of itself, The Hungry Saw still sounds the runt of the group’s generally impressive litter of melancholy soul. But this, their first collection for 4AD (and first with a new line-up including drummer Earl Harvin and guitarist David Kitt), represents a significant recovery of nerve.
They’re certainly in no mood for compromises: Falling Down a Mountain opens with the six-and-a-half-minutes of insistent, monotonal jazz of the title track. Mercifully, this fails to set the scene for what follows, as the album is dominated by the band’s whimsical, playful side, a usually dormant but altogether delightful aspect of their character. Harmony Around My Table sidles to a sauntering Motown beat, Staples all but grinning audibly through an introduction of Tom Waits-ish balefulness: “Found a penny, picked it up / All the day I had some luck / But that was two weeks last Tuesday / Since then there’s been a sliding feeling.” (Tellingly, the doo-wop coda trills merrily along for half the song’s length – a sign of a band having fun if ever there was one.) Peanuts, a duet with Mary Margaret O’Hara, is a mordantly hilarious dialogue irresistibly evocative of the deadpan melodramas of Lee Hazlewood and Ann-Margret.
It would be wrong, however, to mistake Falling Down a Mountain for a glib exercise in laughing it up. The album also contains several worthy additions to Tindersticks’ canon of hangdog torch balladry, notably the sighing, minimal Keep You Beautiful, the Johnny Cash-style Mexicana of She Rode Me Down, and the just plain perfectly Tindersticks-ish Factory Girls. There are also a couple of instrumentals, a habit Tindersticks seem to have acquired from their excursions into film soundtracks (recent outings of this sort have included Claire Denis’s 35 Shots of Rum and White Material, and the accompaniment to a Louis Vuitton collection). Hubbard Hills is a sepulcral, trumpet-led lament, while Piano Music exactly what it says it is – a knelling, tinkling, gorgeously soporific confection that sounds, appropriately, like it was purposefully left unburdened by lyrics in anticipation of some closing credits to play behind.