Tindersticks - Curtains

OH, FOR the glamorous life. Stuart Staples, head swimming from the rivers of champagne he has drunk, sinks back into the plush limousine seat. Beyond the smoked glass, night-time LA flits by as the chauffeur guides the car down Sunset Strip back to the Ch'teau Marmont, to the ancient epicentre of Hollywood debauchery. What happened tonight? More and more champagne. A $2,000 bar bill. New friends, new sycophants, never-ending bullshit. This... is... it.

But when he gets back to his room - to Jim Morrison's room, for Christ's sake - and collapses on his bed, he dreams of being back in London, pushing his baby around the supermarket. A bright world of possibilities is within his grasp, and all he longs for is mundanity, for dullness and familiarity and something real.

This, roughly, is what Stuart sings in 'Ballad Of Tindersticks'. And this is the prevailing sentiment of 'Curtains': his band have seen the world, feasted, been fted and come to realise that their long-held distrust of the showbiz milieu is entirely justifiable, that their close-knit parochialism is still what suits them best. The third Tindersticks album (or sixth if you count two live jobs and last year's tinkly 'Nenette Et Boni' soundtrack), then, is still more Finsbury Park B&B than Hotel California. Songs unwind very, very slowly with a kind of wracked, bruised grace, all creaking organs and woozy strings, while Stuart mangles and stretches words at will, a muffled croon from the peripheries of sleep. Hated them before? You'll hate them now. They're not going to change for anyone: not for an American corporate cocksucker; not for a shiny happy Kula Shaker fan. F?? 'em. There's a stubborn, rigorously uncompromising musical vision to follow, dammit.

As ever, the most important thing on 'Curtains' is the atmosphere. It's the way the six 'Sticks go about their business with a peculiarly understated intensity, the way tiny details gradually accumulate. Frequently, it's hard to make out what Stuart is on about, but that atmosphere enables meaning to be conveyed implicitly, absorbed rather than spelt out, as if he is singing emotions instead of words.

Sometimes there's muted flash, great swelling strings, salsa trumpets drifting evocatively into the mix: the Tindersticks have never been better than on the opening triumvirate of 'Don't Look Down', the superbly sashaying 'Rented Rooms' and the very first 'Another Night In' which, with a typically wry nod to 'A Night In', makes explicit the continuity between 'Curtains' and their last album proper. Sometimes the mood is sparse, fractured, gently unnerving: during 'Dancing', the thought occurs that where once the 'Sticks were accused of stealing from Nick Cave, now, on 'The Boatman's Call', he has come round to aping their slow-motion, flawed dignity.

And, 'Ballad Of Tindersticks' apart, there's that prevailing London ennui, a sense of strained domesticity, a hint of black moods behind those twitching, smoke-damaged curtains. By the penultimate track, 'Bathtime', Staples has become desperate to wash off the urban filth - physical and metaphysical, material and moral - just as he wanted to on 'City Sickness', back near the start of this wilful, proud, cranky career.

"When do you lose the ability to step back and get a sense of your own ridiculousness? They're only songs," he ponders on 'Ballad...', but it really is too late for that now. For, compared with the glaring superficialities of LA, the world detailed in these consuming vignettes is much more real, the familiar events as close to pleasure as they are to tragedy. There is a method in the Tindersticks' melancholy, and it becomes them.


John Mulvey