Review of Tindersticks album The Hungry Saw.
It's hard to believe that Tindersticks have been around for so long - more than fifteen years in fact, and this is studio album number seven. The joke always used to be that Stuart Staples sounds a bit like Vic Reeves in the "club singer" round on Shooting Stars. A little harsh, perhaps, but there was an element of truth in the observation. On this record, however, he seems to have settled into what might be called a "Nick Cave lite" type of delivery. It works, in the main.
After an introductory instrumental which is fairly mournful, the first song proper - "Yesterdays Tomorrows" - sets the lounge-jazz tone quite perfectly. Electric piano, wobbly organ, reverbed guitar chops, tambourine and genuine crooning. You can almost smell the French cigarettes and chic drinks. The arrangement really is rather good. A flute pops in to say hello, some brass drops by to flesh things out. Everything in its right place, if you like. "The Flicker of a Little Girl" features an acoustic guitar and a piano quite prominently, the latter providing some lovely chords. Muted brass lends a subtle touch, and there's the flute again. It's almost a little bit Belle and Sebastian - it feels light, clean, airy. I'm not sure about the "woo-hoo-hoo" backing vocals, but that's just splitting hairs. "Come and Feel the Sun" begins with piano and spidery bass, the vocals underpinned by some mournful strings - a viola, perhaps? Lyrics about "wasters who call themselves friends" add to the wistful feel. There's a fantastic tremeloed guitar on "E-Type", an array of saxophones, and a wonderfully "period" organ sound, plus a glockenspiel or two, and more brass. In the wrong hands, this could have turned into a right dog's dinner, but there's a deftness of touch and tight control that prevents that happening. No lyrics on this one, just some "ba-ba-ba" vocals.
"The Other Side of the World" begins very quietly, with just a voice and a guitar arpeggio. An organ and a piano join in, but it's still quiet. Fragile, even. Later on we get more strings, and accusations of being maudlin could perhaps be levelled. But I quite like the way it wallows in its own unashamed sentimentality, and some of the chord progressions are rather lush. "The Organist Entertains" could almost be soundtrack music (they've done a few in their time), and without a vocal to provide focus - or indeed, some pictures to look at - I'm not altogether convinced it works. "The Hungry Saw" is the most up-tempo and happy-sounding track so far, driven by a positively jaunty electric guitar and a curiously effective "ch-ch" backing vocal. The organ's lovely, and the bassy brass (it might even be a sax) parps away nicely.
"Mother Dear" is a waltz propelled by an upright bass and what might be a harmonium. It's all very subdued, the vocals little more than a whisper or a croak, the timpani subtle. An electric guitar makes some interjections that sound tentative and intrusive at the same time before going off on a riff that sounds like it's come from a different song - the tempo and rhythm are all over the place. It sounds odd, and not a little contrived. Some semblance of business as usual is provided by the appearance of some strings. Hmm. Not sure about that one at all. The pace picks up a little with "Boobar Come Back to Me", but it's far from happy-go-lucky, carefree stuff. Later we get some organ chords that are little predictable and backing vocals that sound like they've fallen off the back of a truck full of old Bowie albums. "All the Love" sounds almost stopped in comparison, and I'm not sure that the backing vocals were such a good idea. The cello is, though - it sounds great. Final track "The Turns We Took" has a suitably waving-goodbye feeling, with a descending guitar riff that seems to get further away the more it goes on. There are one or two guitar flourishes that are genuinely beautful, and the strings hold everything together perfectly. The promise of a closing crescendo is tantalising, and while I'm not sure it quite gets there, it's a lovely sound nevertheless.
This is a very well put together record. It's really well recorded, thoughtfully done, and the arrangements are largely bang on. It's atmospheric and evocative. It's not a million miles from anything Tindersticks have produced previously, but then again, maybe that's no bad thing. When you put a Tindersticks record on, you know pretty much what you're going to get. They have their own distinctive sound, and that's becoming an increasingly rare commodity these days. If you're fond of a pot of moody introspection with a lounge-jazz flavour, you'll love this. If you don't, you should probably give it a miss.