By all indications, Nottingham’s best-dressed dark-night soul band is still riding a triumphant and unexpected comeback. After a decade of uneven productivity and potentially disastrous personnel shakeups, the band congealed into a propulsive core quintet and released Falling Down a Mountain, an album at once tight and complex, unrepentantly eccentric and invitingly commercial.
That was in 2010. Since then, the band has broken ranks with 4AD / Beggars Banquet, ending what frontman Stuart Staples describes as a secure, comfortable relationship. The good news is that the jump hasn’t weakened the Sticks’ spirit or discipline. The other good news is that the unfortunately titled The Something Rain has a much more sinister edge than Falling Down a Mountain or any of the band’s work since the very early days. It retains Mountain‘s dense production, but swaps out its calculated affectations for raw sexual urgency, deep-black humor and desperate foreboding.
The protracted opener “Chocolate” finds Tindersticks up to one of their old tricks: the deadpan narrative punched up with morbid jokes (refer to “Ballad of Tindersticks” from Curtains, or much better yet “My Sister” from way back in ‘95). Over repetitive guitar and keyboard figures, David Boulter dryly relates a tale of a sexual conquest gone confusing, saving his big twist and self-lacerating punchline for the end. Although Staples and his unmistakable damaged baritone don’t check in until the album’s tenth minute, “Chocolate” sets an appropriate tone.
Although the band has been working with American R&B tropes more or less full-time since the late ‘90s, it has rarely driven this far into erotic and romantic anguish. “Show Me Everything” and “A Night So Still” set tortured nocturnal confessions to slow-building, gradually menacing mélanges of hooks. “This Fire of Autumn” gets right to the point, riding a quick tempo toward a roll in the hay too long deferred. It, too, despite its open-hearted swagger, has an anxious undercurrent of internal conflict, as though its narrator knows that getting what he wants may screw things for everyone.
“Medicine” and “Frozen,” from the record’s second half, are darker still. The former is the most perverse sort of drug ballad, a cold bossa nova that simply relates the harsh sensations of living inside an addicted body. “Frozen” makes the desperation of “This Fire of Autumn” much more explicit – it doesn’t want you to blow it; it wants you to save it from itself. The long romantic torch song “Come Inside,” despite its odd lyrical reversals, comes as a serious relief.