Now in their third decade as a band and second phase of their career after a five-year hiatus, Nottingham’s Tindersticks smartly open The Something Rain with a maneuver aimed against any assumed legacy-act complacence. At just over nine minutes and barely less than 1,200 words, “Chocolate” is the longest song in the band’s voluminous catalogue. It’s also a brilliant gambit that perfectly sets the scene for the album’s mix of smoldering Northern Soul and hazy pop sophistication.
At the start, David Boulter assumes the role of a blue-collar chum who’s quietly accepted his bland fate—a construction job that doesn’t reward, a one-room apartment that doesn’t offer solace, a regular bar stool that’s more about the suds flowing behind the counter than the company sitting alongside it. But during a hot streak at the pool table on a Friday evening after work, the universe seems to smile on him. A woman he’s noticed before makes a move for his hot hand. They drink, they talk, they dance, and they return to her well-appointed room. As the vibraphone twinkles and the horns shyly smile at his good fortune, Boulter rejoices: “This was heaven, the end of a perfect day.” But just as he’s taken his dingy quarters and dead-end occupation in stride, he reckons it’s too late to turn back now. “I was never a breast man, anyway,” Boulter says, his character’s embrace of humor, tragedy, and resignation perfectly rendered.
This is more than a down-and-out tone poem, as the quintet moves through these nine minutes with the same elegance and élan that make the rest of Rain so compelling. These nine tracks work to capture the ruminative and rollicking sides of Tindersticks. The band lounges through “A Night So Still,” for instance, using toy drums, circus keyboards, and slinking horns to create a kaleidoscopic canvas beneath Stuart Staples’ croon. “Come Inside” matches the suggestive title with gentle strings, ample saxophone, and simple lover-boy sighs. But “Slippin’ Shoes” touches on Tropicália, and “Frozen” grinds guitar noise against a deep, sweaty thump. “This Fire Of Autumn” runs a headlong race through lysergic synthesizer tones and washed-out guitar themes, Staples’ uncertain warble backed by soul singing that suggests the heights of Spiritualized. Not bad for a bunch of old blokes out looking for a Friday night thrill.