Falling Down A Mountain

The trouble with being profoundly prolific in the early stages of a career is that it can become very easy for bands to trap the public perception of them in amber extraordinarily quickly, and, given that Tindersticks managed to get their first nine singles out in under a year and a half, it’s a particularly pointed concern in their case. Of course, the image of suave melancholics ruminating on their unfeasibly harrowing sorrows in late-night, probably illicit bars has served them very well in the past (‘My Sister’ and ‘Marbles’ are especially deathless), but their numerous attempts to move past that have never quite received the same attention or affection as their earliest endeavours, and the departure of several key members must have left them wondering if the magic could wholly be recaptured again.

Whether Falling Down A Mountain can properly rectify this is, in fairness, anyone’s guess, but it’s certainly the most compellingly concerted step they’ve taken since, if memory serves, 1999’s ‘Odyssey’ cover at the very least and, for that, they’re to be thoroughly applauded. The opening title track, for example, lays the album’s stall out beautifully: it might maintain a startling sordidness (the trumpet, courtesy of long time collaborator Terry Edwards, enjoys the freeform seediness of Soft Cell at their most ragged), but it’s a lengthy and complex work that sees the ‘Sticks come, blinking, into the sunlight, which is clearly a strenuous experience – Stuart Staples is slow to enter proceedings, and then when he does he’s distant and barely coherent – and one that leaves the participants steely but still unsteady, an impression exacerbated by the occasional meander into 13/8 time a la Mercury Rev’s fantastically fried ‘Girlfren’.

Those timing games recur on ‘Harmony Around My Table’ too, along with some decidedly Northern soul piano that, in a move that’s not exactly contemporary but proves mighty exciting nonetheless, is but a hair’s breadth away from candidacy for a prime Fatboy Slim slight reimagining. Staples’ performance ends up feeling enthusiastically improvised and even sees him edging towards genuine jubilance as he swings up to the second chorus. Moreover, it contains some excellently Wilsonian "doo-wap"s from new recruit David Kitt, a talented figure whose lack of profile has long been a puzzlement, and who’s clearly proving a fine influence on proceedings. It’s his harmonies that stop ‘Keep You Beautiful’ from ever becoming too familiar, and his more overtly pop instincts that provide a sterling underpinning to the twangy neo-glam of ‘Black Smoke’ even as it tries to rein in its more quizzical skips.

In fact, the presence of new blood in general appears to have energised the participants here. The unabashedly horny ‘She Rode Me Down’, for instance, gallops along at a terrific lick, assisted by all manner of hearty handclaps and pneumatic xylophony. The remarkable finale ‘Piano Music’ is the etude its title teases at, constructed with an admirably Mogwaiesque dynamic understanding. Hell, even ‘No Place So Alone’ might be appealingly ponderous, but it’s still got a bit that goes "one-two-three-four!", possibly the least Classic Tindersticks phrase in the whole pop vocabulary. And ‘Peanuts’, the Mary Margaret O’Hara collaboration, – coo! and, indeed, coup! – works wonderfully, layering those Barry / Hazlewood strings over oddly life-affirming muted horn as two singers for whom atmosphere will always trump technicality warble weirdly wide-eyedly about "exquisite pain" in a melding that recalls a more thoughtful reworking of Morrissey and Siouxsie’s ‘Interlude’. Sure, there are enough of the signatures intact for the faithful not to feel slighted, but the key components here are adventure and renewal, making Falling Down A Mountain Tindersticks’ best shot yet at rising from the embers.

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