As you peruse your tens or hundreds or thousands of records and CDs, one thing that strikes you is that there are some bands that you like, and other special bands that you love. We know what defines the latter: fervent fandom, frequent attendance at shows and concerts, the pursuit of every last b-side, the ability to hum any of their tunes, to sings along with every last lyric, etc. Me, I always find it easy to write about bands and artists that I love.
It can be tougher discussing bands that you just, you know, like. And I like Tindersticks a lot. There have been occasions when I've lazed about in a funk repeatedly playing one of their songs (notably "I Was Your Man," from 1997's Curtains) during prolonged moments of melancholy, struck by the fragile beauty of their music, marveling at and feeling the poignancy of a brilliant line like "You've got a smile that never reaches your eyes." I just never quite crossed the line into super-enthusiastic obsession, never went past the band's six studio albums (they've also got live ones, several soundtracks for Claire Denis films, even a compilation or two). Which means that when it came time to write about Waiting for the Moon, I felt the need to dig back into the band's back catalog in order to put this latest release into some kind of context.
And in the process, the new album's shortcomings come out. Sure, the usual elements are present on Waiting for the Moon: Tindersticks continue to make perfect late-night music, with singer Stuart Staples' baritone floating on top of the septet's melancholy, string-heavy tunes, creating a fairly distinctive sound. Tales of love gone bad, lovers gone mad, the abandoned left feeling sad they're here in spades. And the increased presence of violinist Dickon Hinchliffe, who employs his reedy tenor on a pair of lead vocals, is another positive, even if his songs don't break any new ground.
But Waiting... also finds the band regressing a bit, retreating from those new elements call-and-response vocals, handclaps, looser rhythmic arrangements that made 1999's Simple Pleasure and 2001's Can Our Love? such unexpected delights, with newfound tension to be found between the music's mirth and the lyric's languid longing. For some bands, this "back to basics" approach works but on this go-around, it doesn't.
Tindersticks have always made music that conjures up smoke: songs that are elusive, wispy and ephemeral, sung by men with somewhat rough smokers' voices. With Waiting for the Moon, unfortunately, little remains once the smoke clears. Individual moments lend themselves to appreciation, but outside of the album's oft-quoted opening lines "My hands 'round your throat/ If I kill you now, well they'll never know" the album is virtually a self-destructing message incapable of being retained.
More than two months of frequent listening have left me in a state of experiencing this sumptuous album solely in the present tense. In a way, it's akin to a fireworks display: each individual burst and boom seems magnificent, and fills me with great appreciation while it's happening, but I find myself struck dumb trying to describe it afterwards, with the sky obscured by smoke as the crowd packs up and leaves.