Rating: 4/5Tindersticks have all the makings of a longtime working band: a career spanning just over two decades, a consistent sound that could be called more influential than commercially successful and a few dissolutions and reunions along the road. Since the core trio of Stuart Staples, David Boulter and Neil Fraser got back together in 2007, they’ve produced several under the general radar albums of their trademark noir-inflected orchestral pop. Their latest, The Something Rain, may not just stand out as their best recent effort, but among the best of their career.
Since the one-two punches of their self-titled debut and sophomore albums, Tindersticks have always been defined by their mysterious, seamy sound. Equal parts lounge atmosphere and dark balladry, it’s a potent vein to mine, though one that does pin them into a corner occasionally. Eternally sounding like the creepy soundtrack to a mid-‘90s film, the band can’t seem to stop sounding like themselves, but that’s assuming they’re even trying. Nine albums in, The Something Rain does not illuminate any unseen aspect of the band or their general attitude, nor does it try to stretch any of it to a break point. But while many longtime bands seem to get an itch to try something new, whether to break out of a rut or to attract new fans, only to be met with disaster, there’s a kind of comfort in knowing Tindersticks has kept the smoky shadow of their music just as distant and gently eerie as ever.
Nowhere on the album is that consistency more prominent than the opening track, “Chocolate.” If there’s a track on The Something Rain that will be more talked about and get less radio play, it’s sure to be this one. Over the course of over nine minutes of gentle strumming, hesitant percussion and a piercing, watery guitar, Boulter essentially recites a shaggy dog story, a kind of kitchen sink love story with a strangely sweet ending. Six minutes in, a ragged saxophone pierces through the increasingly intense atmosphere, ratcheting up the working class glamor of the song, until it concludes on a moment both hilarious and poignant. The other tracks on the album don’t quite reach the peak of the opener, but most songs would have a hard time matching up to the guts of starting an album with a lengthy spoken word piece (outside of a bad prog-rock LP, that is). Tracks like “This Fire of Autumn” and “Slippin’ Shoes” tend to a relatively upbeat swing, but sounding jazzy and dour in equal measure. Others, like “Show Me Everything” and “Frozen” are more uncomfortably intimate, the latter driving and full of sudden squalls of horn and the former more rock-oriented than the rest of the album, being driven by buzzing guitar, John Cale-style strings and featuring female back up vocals.
If The Something Rain doesn’t show any particular stylistic growth from Tindersticks, it doesn’t reveal any chinks in their armor either. Staples’ distinctive croon is still as powerful as ever, and while their basic instrumentation may be from the same toolbox they’ve always used, their songwriting is tight and compelling. Their latest album may not win them any new fans, but it should certain keep their current ones happy.