Tindersticks, Can Our Love…, 2001

I bought Can Our Love by mail order the month it came out. It came in a nice smooth digipack with this beautiful cover of a man nuzzling a donkey. With only eight songs, this was the shortest Tindersticks album yet. I would have to rate it up there with Tinderstick I and II, and despite rating II as my favourite Tindersticks album, I’ve definitely played Can Our Love… a lot more. One of the reasons is that at only eight tracks it’s a rather more wieldy beast. The other reason is that there’s a consistency of both sound and song quality on this album, some damn fine tunes and a warmth that keeps you coming back for more. This was where I stopped buying Tindersticks albums though. The reviewers after this started to sound tired of them and I guess I caught some of that.  It wouldn’t be until 2010 when I would catch up with their 00s releases.

Dying Slowly…opens with great lyrics, “I’ve got memories / They keep them away from me / They won’t behave / Won’t be what I want them to be / I’ve seen it all and it’s all done / I’ve been with everyone and no one / So many squandered moments / So much wasted time / So busy chasing dreams / I left myself behind.” That’s poetry. This starts quietly with lightly strummed guitar and Staples’s vocal, very clear this time, until the first verse finishes, the moment climaxes and the piano, drums and strings start. The strings are kept to a minimum this time. The pianist plays a few simple notes. The tune sort of teases you, always threatening to break out, which it does eventually. The song seems to come in waves; the verses sort of build up to a point quietly then the music crashes in around, but quickly recedes, until the main chorus where everything builds up with strings and short stabs of trumpet and trombone. “So this dying slowly / It seemed better than shooting myself” and then the belted out part: “If I could find the words to explain this feeling / I would shout them out / If I could find out honestly what’s inside of me / I would shout it out.” The video would suggest the lyrics are all about a man drinking himself to death. Tune is magnificent, beautiful, understated.

People Keep Coming Around…starts with a low cello, slow brass grind, then this really soul-groovy bassline which drives the song forward continuously, never letting up. This is dance music, soul music, horns, strings, clavinet, electric violin, sixties organ; all sorts of things adding neat effects. The lead vocal is Dickon Hinchcliffe at first, though it’s then taken up by Staples. The tune is awesome, and yes I’d have to rate this up there with ‘Dying Slowly.’ It’s quite a long song. The chorus, “People keep coming around / You better watch yourself / No matter where you go / I hear them coming for you now” and then this pretty instrumental section with clavinet providing a strange kind of atmosphere. Damn this is a good song. There’s a fantastic instrumental section after the second chorus that gets quite noisy with electric guitar. “You keep running away / You keep turning” he sings over several times, and then “You know I’ll always wait.” In fact it’s a duet between two men though I can’t quite figure out what the song’s actually about, but it works somehow. I mean all the emotion and meaning is there; the lyrics and voices certainly convey the emotion. I’m just not quite sure what that emotion is. Not easy to pin down in words perhaps. Something’s up between these two. One seems to be warning the other to be careful.

Tricklin’…a lone lean organ sound wavers continuously in the background while Staples sings the same lyrics over and over, but there’s two of him singing the words, sort of tangling over top, or just before one voice stops the other starts, and even though this track often gets slagged off as a waste of time in many reviews, I’ve always liked it. It is only filler, experimental filler, but not filler in the sense of throwaway music, more like filler to bridge one song to the next, the same way they used short experimental pieces on the first two albums. “Tricklin’ through my mind / Tickles / It quickens or decides to slow / Tricklin’ through my mind / It tickles me behind my eyes.” That’s about it. But there is a form/content thing happening here because the way the words keep ‘tripping’ out make them literally sound like they’re now trickling through the listener’s mind, and tickling. What does it mean? Not sure.

Can Our Love… …uses a light wah wah effect on the guitar. The pace is slow. Staples’s vocal is low and intimate, desolate. This is an awfully sad song. The chorus, “Can our love, can our love / Grow any further?” And while the wind keeps pushing them on, and while there’s still a way to go, it would seem that there’s a blockage somewhere. There’s been connection; “We’ve touched it now / We’ve touched it / Don’t let it go.” This reminds me of Browning’s ‘Two In The Campagna’. It’s like the impossibility of any further connection. The inevitable separation that we feel when we realize that human connection has reached its limits. The singing is forlorn; the music slowly builds to a brief crescendo, but then quietens, while that electric wah drops liquid notes through the end of the song. Great stuff.

Sweet Release…picks up the pace, organ sounds, rimshot beat, fender Rhodes electric piano, acoustic guitar, long lines playing a lonesome tune. “It’s too long till I see you again / It’s too long to be with you / You know these hands / They don’t know what to do,” sings Staples. “Give me that sweet release / Give me that sweet release,” he pleads. There’s a light wah wah guitar in the background, shimmering strings, and that weird old organ sound. I’m noticing something about song structure here, which we’ve seen time and again in Tindersticks. First there’s the ever so slow build before some crescendo is usually reached. Second, there’s a pretty tune, but played in a subdued minor way, that always hovers, is always there as if it’s going to burst out into a huge pop anthem, but never really does. There might be a brief catchy chorus piece, but they drop it quickly, always sort of leaving you wanting more. And even though these songs are not short, they strike the kind of atmosphere and mood where you wouldn’t really complain if the song went on for half an hour (although this one seems to be going on for over 6 or 7 minutes). This also does that slow build and release, retract, build, swell, crash, recede, stay away, return and then crescendo in ever changing combinations of this structural effect. For a song called ‘Sweet Release’ this is an effective strategy.

Don’t Ever Get Tired…here’s one that sounds like it belongs on an earlier Tindersticks album. Or maybe not. This is the shy dog in the corner. It’s the least memorable number here. A slow one, with old timery church organ humming away, with lovely little electric guitar notes, a thrumming bass and lyrics that never really catch your attention. It’s not long either. Yes, there’s always a song like this one—despite the numerous times I’ve played this album, I can tell straight off that I’ve never paid attention to this song before, and again, here, it somehow just slipped by. I guess that’s a failure.

No Man In The World…is a kind of spoken word number with a chiming guitar arpeggio, a slow rimshot drumbeat, and a soft bassline. The voice is quiet, a little mumbly, but then unlike earlier spoken word Tindersticks songs, this one turns into a song proper with a chorus, and it’s great. “Still feel the flame / Still feel the cold / Still feel the flame / Gets so cold around the stove…/…They still reach for me / Makes you feel like no man in the world wanted you.” Crikey this is a downer song. But it has a wonderfully (morbid) tune. It’s terribly slow. It’s all about an awful break up. He seems to have burned down the house, and then “Never knew how to deal with it / Always tearing at each other / The violence and the shame /Banging my head against the wall /Wanting to explode.” But it never explodes. A lone violin finishes the song off. This is even sadder sounding than ‘Can Our Love…”

Click once to expand, again to magnify

Chilitetime…harks back to that older weirder Tindersticks sound. Some heavily electrified guitar notes and a doomy kind of organ sound, with a doomy kind of vibe that reminds me a lot of Mazzy Star. Then this weirdly distorted violin starts whining away in disconcerting tones, and the clavinet keeps intoning through the middle of the sound like dial tone. This is another incredibly long song, very moody. Lots of lyrics, again, all about some kind of disconnect, failed communication, something that can’t be made to work out. The vocal gets more desperate and those wavering off kilter violins keep scraping atonal screeches in the background, not horrible, quite listenable in fact, but very much like early Tindersticks. While the ‘tune’ is slight, that hardly matters. The song has its own momentum; it’s all about creating an atmosphere, one that keeps you down, man. Life is tough. Beautiful way to end such a stunning album. Tindersticks have to be one of the most consistently great bands of the 90s.

About Alan Bumstead Vinyl Reviews

Alan Bumstead is a music fanatic who humbly adds confusion to the world with a string of album reviews written during real-time-listening in a stream-of-consciousness style, then edited for spelling, punctuation, flow and grammar. Apart from an additional introductory paragraph, the writing is improvised in time with the music. There is no re-writing. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In his book Moving To Higher Ground Wynton Marsalis says, "Because jazz musicians improvise under the pressure of time, what's inside comes out pure. It's like being pressed to answer a question before you have a chance to get your lie straight. The first thought is usually the truth." I like to think that's what Alan Bumstead's all about.
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