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Over ten years after their debut seven-inch emerged blinking to a shower of hosannas, Tindersticks have refused to answer the door to Mr Compromise. The major label deal came; the major label deal went. Ditto Britpop. Something referred to as "the new acoustic movement" prompted some discussion about the return of "proper songs." None of which seemed to impact much upon the world of Tindersticks - where the propriety (or otherwise) of songs has never been an issue. Along the way, they slimmed down and grew up. On 2001's Can Our Loveâ€¦ the ghost of Curtis Mayfield seemed to stalk the group's long dark soul of the night. Suddenly, Stuart Staples' forlorn streetlight serenades had acquired something dangerously close to a groove.
Perhaps not surprisingly for a band who can count three soundtracks in their resume ( the animated short Trojan Horse, Claire Denis' infamous Trouble Every Day and Nenette et Boni), Waiting For The Moon draws you in like an unfolding narrative. It starts with a postcard from a nightmare (Until The Morning Comes) and awakes to a world that could hardly be less forgiving. On Say Goodbye To The City, Staples sounds like a man held captive inside his own song - pleading "I can't see you anymore" over a backdrop of imminent panic which swells with every passing song. It's on the remarkable 4:48 Psychosis though, that Waiting For The Moon reaches the outermost point of its journey. Over a one-chord improvisation, Staples' feverish intonations owe more to The Velvet Underground to any of the band's more well-documented influences. After reading the text of Sarah Kane's posthumously staged play, Staples felt that "it had a real connection with me. I avoided [writing] it as long as I could [but] then got to a point [where] I just had to do something."
Thereafter, Waiting For The Moon slowly edges towards some kind of resolution. Sometimes It Hurts is the latest in a succession of duets that started back in 1993 with Huggy Bear's Niki Sin and includes Isabella Rossalini, Ann Magnusson and Carla Torgerson. This time we find the bewitching chanteuse Lhasa de Sala negotiating a terrain familiar to Tindersticks fans - where parting fuels desire and desire prolongs the misery of parting. The sweetest sorrow also informs My Oblivion, thanks to the sumptuous languor of its strings. "Maybe, we're beginning to find out what our own sound is, rather than referring too much to our current obsessions," says Dickon Hinchcliffe, "I can listen to Waiting For The Moon and hear no-one else in it."
Stuart Staples concurs. The last time Tindersticks put together such a magnificently distinctive album was all of ten years ago, when their self-titled debut set rose to the top of several critics' end-of-year polls. "We're just striving to make the first album again," he smiles, "Not literally - because you can never do that - but in terms of the unconscious way that those first songs came together. As time goes on you get better at writing songs and more accomplished at playing them. But a great album needs to be more than the sum of its parts." It's like in life, says Dickon. "You start with naivety, then you gather some knowledge along the way and begin to implement it. The next stage is learning enough to realise how little you really do know. You come full circle."