MUSIC: Tindersticks

Tindersticks
Nenette et Boni
Bar None

England's Tindersticks put the elan in melancholy. Trading on a torpor reserved for countries that never had an Otis Redding or Aretha Franklin, they've been schmaltzing it up proper since their self-titled debut in 1993. By now, their Euro-paean cabaret-chic has been embraced by a legion of single white hipsters who like their romanticism tipsy and their music Roxy. Singer Scott Staples pours his baritone over such bad poetry as "I have these hands beating with love for you/And you're not here to touch/What else can I do/When I need something that much?" The boys in the band soak him in yawning strings and distorted pianos. Their '80s torch pop is matured by pit orchestration, lush guitars, and authentic drums. Under-read English majors swoon.

While listening to the band's music, French director Claire Denis wrote the screenplay for her film Nenette et Boni, a melodramatic study of a depressive young pizza cook whose fantasy life is disrupted when his pregnant 15-year-old sister moves in with him. On the Tindersticks' soundtrack, Staples's wallow is given second billing as his band realizes some spare musical themes: Hollow tonalities leave us plenty of dark corners to curl up in as arpeggiated piano melodies drown and resurface and vibes ornament in droplets. A languorous lounge-feel abounds.

Nenette is satisfying, but it can only be heard on the heels of the Tindersticks' under-received LP Curtains--which, mixing the dramatic and the mundane, underscores Staples's croon in the band's challenging instrumental textures and chord changes as comfy Springsteen standbys. Curtains' standouts are tunes like "another night in," a love song in which an urgent string section throws itself shamelessly at a foot-dragging waltz; and "Rented Rooms," a ballad about poor romantics waiting for late cabs and shagging in bar bathrooms that plays classicist-rock guitar against what seems like a Herb Alpert concert going on in the next room. Yet, as Staples's fans would have it, the most honest thing here is the most ironic. "The Ballad of the Tindersticks" finds the singer babbling about the decadence of his own paramount sadness and wondering, "When do you get a chance to step back and get a sense of your own ridiculousness?" Hopefully, that time won't come anytime soon.

 
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