Tindersticks – Falling Down a Mountain

January 01, 1970





Too many bands underestimate the healing powers of time off,
choosing the heroic flame out rather than risking the embarrassing fade out. But
there’s increasing evidence that the latter isn’t preordained, and that there
really is something to pacing oneself for the long haul. Britain’s maestros of the lush and lecherous,
Tindersticks, risked a five-year hiatus after 2003’s desultory Waiting for the Moon, an uninspired
record that epitomized the band’s recent slow-but-steady fall-off. But, having also
parted with Stuart Staples’ chief collaborator, Dickon Hinchliffe, the band returned
full of piss and vinegar and a host of fresh ideas, as their 2009 release, The Hungry Saw, amply demonstrated. That
they’ve written and recorded an even better follow-up, Falling Down a Mountain (Constellation), and done much of it during
a whirlwind three-month summer session in 2009, suggests the time-off idea will
be the key to a successful second act. The sextet that made The Hungry Saw return here, and the
addition of third guitarist David Kitt and new drummer Earl Harvin create even
more lush arrangements for the Northern Soul-tinged compositions of
singer/guitarist Staples and keyboardist David Boulter, the chief architects.


Some of the orchestral textures may even recall the band’s
1997 release, Curtains, but in truth the
sonic palette is broader here and the compositions more diverse. The opening
title track features a deep 5/8 groove, eerie keys and background feedback, all
of it forming bedding for Terry Edwards’ muted trumpet scrawls and Staples’ one-too-many-cocktails
croon. The whole modal vibe comes off as homage to Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden. “Harmony Around My
Table” is a rollicking, hand-clapping number that gathers steam throughout,
adding doo-wop harmonies and vibes to a crescendo that’s as joyous as anything
in the band’s nearly two-decade-run. “Black Smoke” is a pulsing, early Roxy
Music-like rocker built on a thick, 70s’ guitar riff, Staples’ deadpan delivery
turning frantic as he confesses “I got shot down…I was greedy for it.” Staples’
narratives still probe love’s darker corners, but there’s a sense that the
singer’s matured, and can at least explain why it is he does the terrible
things he does.


The band’s long-running cinematic flair appears in various
compelling guises, too. “She Rode Me Down” gallops out of a Spaghetti Western through
insistent acoustic strumming, sinister cello, and Calexico-like trumpet
heralds, but adds, of all things, a flute solo to the mix. The mid-record organ
wash of “Hubbard Hills” reads like an intermission, and the closing
instrumental “Piano Music” finds strings, guitar and piano circling hypnotically
around a gorgeous descending figure – perfect roll-credits music for a
disturbing noir-mystery. Just about the only missteps are the painfully silly lyrics
on “Peanuts,” a duet with Mary Margaret O’Hara, and the ballad “Keep You
Beautiful,” which tilts precious but mostly doesn’t fare well in comparison
with the piano-and-guitar lament “Factory Girls.” The latter is one of the most
wistful songs Staples has ever penned – and for a band that’s delivered a lot
of those over the years, that’s saying something. All these various sonic
flavors, including some new ones, cohere around Tindersticks’ signature
identity. That’s the mark of a veteran band, but one that sounds as if its
second life is just beginning.


Standout Tracks: “Factory Girls,” “She Rode Me Down,” “Black Smoke” JOHN SCHACHT




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