Over the years, Tindersticks have become one of those venerable groups that seem critic proof. As each album emerges, it generally receives glowing praise, but very little context from any mainstream journalists. If you wanted to know where a record stood in the band’s pantheon, you’d be none the wiser after reading through the dashed-off hackwork that passes for most mainstream criticism these days. (In journalists’ defence, they are too often given something like one paragraph, a hundred words and a internet-beating deadline to produce something – not exactly ideal conditions for great writing).
The reason I brought this up, is that I’ve seen nothing but praise for Falling Down a Mountain, an album which in my view is the weakest thing they’ve ever put their name to. It’s the second release by the shorn-off band, but that’s not the problem. After all, the Hungry Saw, for all its flaws, had a handful of tunes that can be counted among their very best work (In particular “Boobar” and “The Turns We Took”).
This album seems like the work of a band looking for a new direction but finding only dead ends. The title track, a clattering, seemingly semi-improvised jazz-influenced piece with a repetitive lyric is a brave way to start, and it works. But the momentum is lost by the insipid “Keep You Beautiful”. From there on in, there’s a mixture of balladry and loose rock that sometimes seems oddly reminiscent of Iggy Pop’s Berlin albums. But memorable tunes are in short supply, and the lyrical content is way below the standard you’d expect from Stuart Staples.
Saving graces are “Peanuts”, a duet with the sainted Mary Margaret O’Hara, that is a kind of 21st century Nancy and Lee with added kookiness and the two instrumentals “Hubbards Hill” and the gloriously lush “Piano Music”. It’s understandable that the band would want to try their hand at more urgent and sparer material, but the uptempo tracks are flat and lacking in drama, unworthy of comparison to “Her”, an old song that (still) proves the band can roar when they want to.
All great bands eventually make a mediocre record. In time they’re forgotten. It’s disappointing that a band that were so immense the last time I saw them in October 2008 have come up with something so lacklustre.
1 Falling Down A Mountain
2 Keep You Beautiful
3 Harmony Around My Table
5 She Rode Me Down
6 Hubbards Hill
7 Black Smoke
8 No Place So Alone
9 Factory Girls
10 Piano Music