Tindersticks - Donkeys 92 - 97

WHILE THERE'S LITTLE consolation for those picking bits of broken heart out of the carpet, one thing to bear in mind is happiness will never have such a magnificent - and strangely glamorous - soundtrack as that created by Tindersticks. Misery might actually sound like sobbing and endless silence, but in the hands of these six men from Nottingham, it's all strings and elegance.

Tindersticks should really be faintly ridiculous; the way singer Stuart Staples passes beyond mere Cohen-esque lugubriousness to become sepulchral; the slight shakiness suggesting life seen not just through the bottom of a glass but the whole damn bottle; the film noir fog of smoke that should be an intolerable cliché for a band who record in Kilburn. Yet, as 'Donkeys '92-97' proves, these people make heavy music with a lightness of touch, blessed with a superabundance of ideas and an orchestral scope that never flaunts its cleverness.

This compilation is an odd affair - but, as they'd probably point out, aren't they all? Opening with their first peerless singles - 'Patchwork', 'Marbles', 'City Sickness' - all reason disappears, leaving a trail of telling fragments, from their delightful cover of Pavement's 'Here' to the almost parodically sultry Francophone version of 'No More Affairs'. For a band so solipsistic, it's the duets that best encapsulate their extremes, their suave wit and their bruised and battered beauty. The hilarious Burton/ Taylor lament 'A Marriage Made In Heaven' sees Stuart partnered by Isabella Rossellini, who - thank you, God - can't sing for nougat. Still, hearing her whisper, "He just groans and moans" as Stuart, somewhere off camera, does just that, is priceless. Then there's 'Travelling Light' with The Walkabouts' Carla Thorgesson. He sits under the hole in the roof letting rain run down his face. She knows he's crying. It's heartbreak on a spoon; its price all too clear.

Tindersticks have enough finest hours for weeks of uninterrupted melancholia, but until the new album arrives, this is the kind of company misery really loves. Find a crack in the roof where the rain pours through, open a bottle of whisky, and revel.


Victoria Segal