On a number of levels, Tindersticks Second Album is a continuation of where the band left off at the end of their début eighteen months earlier. The orchestral grandeur is there, the lovelorn tales, the dirt and grime, the heartache, pain, clanging interludes - even the album’s title is the same, or at least equally absent.
There are subtle progressions, however: if the first album was subsisted on a diet of grubby thoughts in a grubby bedsit or cheap dive-bar, this second album keeps the mental dirt but gives it the air of a private members club, and while the bedsit might still be a depressing place, at least someone’s tidied up a bit.
Perhaps it’s because of the cleaner production, presumably on a bigger budget than before, perhaps it’s down to a growing confidence in the arrangements that mean the songs’ elements are each allowed more breathing space, or perhaps the extra softness in Stuart Staples’ voice - not that it isn’t still arresting - in tandem with lyrics that are less baleful than before.
Whatever it is, the second album somehow trumps the first. From the opening of "El Diablo en el ojo", which left me dumbstruck when I first heard it at, of all places, a listening post in a brightly-lit music mega-store - dumbstruck, grinning in disbelief. With Dickon Hinchcliffe taking a rare lead vocal role, an organ stalks and chunters in the background, and the orchestra works up a swirling head of menacing steam. As cacophonies go, it’s restrained, less manic than earlier counterparts, and almost a farewell to that organ - so often part of the first album’s wall of sound, here largely abandoned in favour of thumping piano and harsh, jabbing brassy orchestral swells.
An example of the new sound of the Tindersticks chaos is "Talk To Me". What starts out pleading - “Talk to me darling, before you throw it away” - turns sinister - “I know it's scary darling / It comes back from the dead / Climbs on out of the ground / Back into our bed” - and the orchestra lets out a mighty painful shriek. Generally, though, the confusion and rough edges belong to the instrumentals "Vertrauen II" and "Vertrauen III". Elsewhere the dial is set to "beautiful orchestral accompaniment no. 1": "Mistakes" builds and builds and builds into a sumptuous climax; "Tiny Tears" saves its strings for a series of lush choruses, the last of which is piercingly beautiful enough to send any good man over the edge.
"No More Affairs" is the depression waltz that you’ll never see on Strictly Come Dancing, ‘She’s Gone’ it's doomed companion. "Travelling Light" is the first of many warming duets that Tindersticks would drop into albums, this time Stuart Staples is joined by Carla Torgerson of folk-country-rock group The Walkabouts.
This time there’s no curious chamber orchestra closer, just the slow sweep of "Sleepy Song", seemingly mastered at about half-volume, with Staples’ vocal barely getting above a whisper, and a simple up and down melody. Having lulled you, it rudely shakes you out of your slumber for a moment before disappearing into the night. It’s a perfect illustration of the appreciation of light and dark that Tindersticks show throughout the album.