Tindersticks weren't completely new to me when I chanced upon their second album at a listening post of one of those high street music retailers who have probably since gone bust: I knew "Marbles" from an NME Singles of the Week compilation CD, and "Snowy in F# Minor" from a cassette given away with Melody Maker the previous August. I stepped up to the listening station and clasped the headphones around my ears; the opening bars of "El Diablo En El Ojo" made their mournful way into my soul. It felt like those other tracks had been planted in front of me for a reason, and this moment was that reason.
I've never fallen as hard or as fast for a band like I did in that moment. There's a magic in the sound that's hard to contain in words. Dickon Hinchcliffe's hushed vocals sometimes joined by the even more hushed Stuart Staples, the strum of an acoustic guitar, and a low rumble that will gradually become a cacophonous wail of strings. When it's all over you have a couple of seconds to let it sink in before the no less intriguing "A Night In" sets the ball of mystery rolling in another direction. This time Staples takes his usual lead vocal role, and the strings dance around him, playing flighty counterpoint to his baritone. This is very much the template that defines much of Tindersticks' second self-titled album: "No More Affairs", "Mistakes" and "She's Gone" all tread a similar path of love, loss, regret and broken-heartedness. "Talk To Me" - like "El Diablo En El Ojo" - adds chaos to the recipe, climaxing frantically.
The crowning moment of this orchestral feast is "Tiny Tears". Strings have seldom wept so sweetly, or contrasted so dramatically as here with Staples' gravel-tones and the warbling organ.
How can you hurt someone so much, you're supposed to care for
Someone you said you'd always be there for
But when that water breaks you know you're gonna cry, cry
When those tears start rolling you'll be back
On Friday 28th April 1995, having paid the princely sum of seven pounds for the privilege, I saw Tindersticks play live for the first time, with support coming from indie-pop legends The Pastels. I've seen them play many times in many locations since - ranging from the ICA to the Royal Albert Hall and Somerset House, acoustic sets to full orchestral productions. Each, in its own way, has been special, but as the saying goes you never forget your first time, and on this occasion there was magic in the air. Standing, rapt, eyes closed amid the smoke and "Patchwork", I had never felt anything quite like it. This was the true power of live music, what music should always strive for: to take the listener somewhere, anywhere, and give them something, whatever they wish for. Not to make them dance, or sing, or jump, necessarily, but to just fall in in love in their own way, with no means or inclination to resist.