Tindersticks - Biography

Bands who have released six or more albums are bound to have at least one poor album in their catalog. It might as well be a rule. The Who showed us how hard it is to always be consistently great with It's Hard (1982 MCA). Radiohead began their brilliant career with the comparatively forgettable Pablo Honey (1993 Capitol). Even the Clash, the “only band that matters,” ended their run with Cut the Crap (1985 Epic), an LP that really didn't matter too much. Perhaps the reason that the Tindersticks, with seven albums to their name, have so successfully escaped this dilemma is their relatively low profile. Without a major label on their backs and without blockbusting chart success to live up to, the English sextet was able to grow as naturally as a band could. Combining brooding, dissonant elements with catchy soul hooks, an ever-present string section, and the warm, delicate baritone of its singer Stuart Staples, Tindersticks managed an originality and career-spanning consistency that is lacking in the careers of even our most-lauded bands.


Before there was the Tindersticks, there was Asphalt Ribbons — a Nottingham-based band fronted by the low murmuring of founding member Staples. In 1991, the band moved to London and experienced a thorough lineup change that would slowly morph into the Tindersticks. Four of the band's six musicians departed, leaving only Staples and organist/accordionist David Boulter. The remaining two were joined by guitarist Neil Fraser, bassist Mark Colwill, drummer Al Macaulay, and violinist/guitarist Dickon Hitchcliffe. They changed their name to Tindersticks in 1992 after Staples read the word on a box of German matches he found while walking on a Greek beach.


Tindersticks started their own label, Tippy Toe, with which they put out their debut 1992 single “Patchwork.” A second single, “Marbles,” appeared early the next year. A collaboration with singer Niki Sin of riot grrrl band Huggy Bear produced a third single, the Lee Hazelwood-inspired “A Marriage Made in Heaven,” this time released through Rough Trade's Singles Club. A label called This Way Up, on the rise at that time, inked a deal with the Tindersticks based on the promise shown on their strong EP Unwired (1993 Tippy Toe).


The much praised, self-titled full-length debut, Tindersticks (1993) arrived in 1993 on This Way Up and was later released in the US on the New Jersey-based label Bar/None. The band was becoming a quiet storm, slowly building up a devoted following and receiving loud praise from UK music magazines. Next, the band issued a single for their cover of “We Have All the Time in the World,” the theme from the 1969 James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The following year, the band released its first live LP, Amsterdam (1994 This Way Up). 


In 1995, the Tindersticks would make their official return with a second self-titled full-length release, which is now referred to as Tindersticks II (1995 This Way Up). Eerily swelling with strings, the album’s opening song “El Diablo en el Ojo” grabs the listener as Staples whispers the warning, “I wouldn't shut your eyes just yet.” The listener is captivated, waiting for a climax that never comes. Tindersticks has an unusual knack for long albums and, taken as a complete work, this double-LP does the job of keeping its audience engaged throughout its sixteen tracks. Initially moody and dark, the second song “A Night In” soon turns mournful and sweet. The rousing duet “Traveling Light,” with the Walkabouts' Carla Torgerson, provides the album’s shimmering highpoint. Reviews of II were just as glowing as those of the debut. The album found its way into the year-end top ten lists of many British publications. Later that year, Tindersticks put out their second live album, Bloomsbury Theatre (1995 This Way Up).


The band next delved into soundtrack work with Nenette et Boni (1996 This Way Up), for Claire Denis’s 1996 film. The soundtrack featured new instrumental material and updated versions of older songs. That same year, Tindersticks recorded a version of “A Marriage Made in Heaven” as a duet between Staples and actress Isabella Rossellini, which appeared on the US release of the band's third album Curtains (1997 This Way Up). The album offers few revelations within the band's sound, demonstrated by the inclusion of album-opener “Another Night In.” Curtains is a strong and worthwhile listen, but also evidence that the band is comfortable in its niche and previously established aesthetic.


When the Tindersticks returned in 1999 with Simple Pleasure (Island), it was clear that they were inching closer to a more conventional sound, borrowing heavily from gospel and soul. This choice gave Staples' heart-on-sleeve lyrics a familiarity and immediacy that wasn't as easily felt on the group's previous darker outings. The band struck a new deal with Beggar's Banquet and their first release on their new label came in 2001 under the title Can Our Love. Their fifth studio album is a continuation down the band's more soulful, conventional path, yet the songs — through their orchestral compositions — are unmistakably Tindersticks through and through. Can Our Love… charted at number 47 in the UK charts. Also in 2001, the Tindersticks released their second soundtrack for Claire Denis, Trouble Every Day (Beggars Banquet).


Waiting For the Moon (2003 Beggars Banquet) showcases a darker set of songs than the band’s last two albums. After this sixth release, things slowed down for the sextet. Staples had moved into solo artist territory, which prompted rumors that the band was splitting up. This seemed as if it would undoubtedly be the case, especially when the group's lineup was split in half. Colwill, Macaulay, and Hitchcliffe all departed from the band, leaving only Fraser and the two lone Asphalt Ribbons members Staples and Boulter. Undeterred and revitalized, the trio brought in bassist Dan McKinna and drummer Thomas Belhom, and set up shop in France to work on the seventh Tindersticks album. It had been five years since any new material had been released and with three talented musicians missing from the project, expectations weren't necessarily high. If Tindersticks ever had a chance to make a poor album, this was it. However, The Hungry Saw (2008 Beggars Banquet) is a triumph for the band. Despite their typical down-tempo songs and down-trodden moods, the band sounds energized and more focused here than they have in a long time. With The Hungry Saw, Tindersticks took a situation that could have potentially been their end, and minimized it to little more than a growing pain. In 2010 the band released Falling Down A Mountain, followed by The Something Rain in 2012.   

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