After three albums of increasingly easy on the ear orchestral vignettes, Tindersticks decided to shake it up a bit for fourth album Simple Pleasure. The strings are still very much in place, but now they’re more soulful than mournful.
Sadness is never far away in the Tindersticks world, but here it comes through inaction ("Forgiveness is what I need" sings Stuart Staples on I know that loving. "If I could only get out of the water") rather than violent or instinctive action. On the album’s final song, "CF GF", he’s ready to go one step further: ‘I won’t make you cry, tell you lies, never say goodbye’. At the same time, because life is not so simple for those who are not so beautiful, he feels the need to qualify this pure tenderness: "Some nights I could crawl in beside anyone".
Sadness starts the album, albeit sadness with hand-claps. From the opening bars of "Can We Start Again" you know something slightly different is going on with Simple Pleasure: taking the place of the Tindersticks album duet here are almost gospel-like backing vocals. And if that wasn't startling enough, they follow it up with a cover version of Odyssey’s 1980 single ‘If You’re Looking For a Way Out’, and somehow make it seem like a Tindersticks original. It’s utterly entrancing, and a measure of how far from their début they've suddenly travelled. This is the anti-’Jism’.
Both ‘If She’s Torn’ and ‘(You Take) This Heart of Mine’ are truly beautiful ballads, but its in the album’s final two offerings that we come back to the brilliance of the album’s opening. "I Know That Loving" and "CF GF" provide a perfect and fitting end to this new / old / new version of Tindersticks. The former, gospel backing in tow, and images of water and altars brings to mind a river baptism, a cleansing, as the strings swirl and eddy, and horns interject. And as for "CF GF", suffice to say it’s an implausibly soulful ballad, shining even among the stellar company it keeps on Simple Pleasure.
After three albums of unerring beauty, but which had Tindersticks getting dangerously close to formulaic, typecast as the orchestral Cave / Cohen wannabes that they never wanted to be, Simple Pleasure was a perfect side-step into new territory: by stripping back the sound, with the addition of backing singers, Tindersticks somehow took their sound to new levels of poignant beauty.