Tindersticks were always an ornery bunch. They were born and flourished in the era of Britpop but, despite an occasional fondness for alcohol-fuelled tomfoolery, shared little of their contemporaries’ laddish DNA, and eschewed nursery rhyme Beatlisms in favor of dark, complex, cinematic microdramas. This contrariness is still the band’s calling card. Twenty-one years and nine studio albums on from their formation in Nottingham, they are no more inclined to sling together a best-of to celebrate a milestone than they are to join Shed Seven and Echobelly on an Ultimate ’90s nostalgia tour.
Instead, rather amusingly, this most demanding of bands, who rarely misses an opportunity to fine-tune a song, have revisited ten old tracks for this retrospective, in an attempt to record the perfect version of each one. It’s a quintessential Tindersticks move and perhaps the only time in their history they’ve been predictable.
Fans will understandably approach with trepidation. Three songs, “A Night In,” “She’s Gone” and “Sleepy Song,” from Tindersticks, their matchless 1994 second album, have been rerecorded. Stuart Staples, the band’s Mexican bandit-mustachioed crooner, explains the makeovers thus: “These are songs that have proved to me to need a tenderness and understanding that I was unable to give them as a younger man on a first meeting. They have grown, their sentiments have grown, they talk about so many of the experiences I have had since then.”
Devotees needn’t worry, though. There’s been no radical “reimagining” of these classics — Avicii hasn’t been drafted in to jolly things up. Instead, an extra sheen of world-weariness has been applied; Staples’s lugubrious, quavery growl is even more fatigued, the arrangements a little more complex and emotionally frayed. “A Night In,” especially, is more powerful for this treatment.
Elsewhere, their cover of Odyssey’s “If You’re Looking For A Way Out” benefits from being a little less baggy, while “Say Goodbye To The City,” from 2003′s Waiting for the Moon, is savagely propulsive and a reminder that the ‘Sticks were as much influenced by The Birthday Party as they were by Leonard Cohen. The standout is “I Know That Loving”, an old-school R&B track from 1999′s Simple Pleasure. It’s more loose-limbed, Staples’s voice more relaxed, the groove much funkier. Tindersticks — funky? They’ve come a long way in 21 years.