The Magnetic Fields & Tindersticks
It’s been a busy January for me, what with a skiing holiday and relentless (and – finally – successful) job searching. The result of which has been a backlog of hot new tunes, in what seems like a stellar musical start to the year.
There’s a pile of vinyl next to the record player that I haven’t even dared to attack yet, so let’s start off with some comfy old favourites, bands you can return to album after album in the knowledge that you’ll get some tasty treats…
I shouldn’t really like The Magnetic Fields of course. The synths and a frustrating propensity towards novelty have tended to irk, but the tunes, the wonderfully arch lyrics and Stephin Merritt’s world-weary baritone always draw me back. This time, the credits proudly state ‘no synths’ (just like Queen did back in 1973), and Merritt takes his fare share of vocal duties.
The bar is set pretty high on opening track You Must Be Out Of Your Mind, a trademark shuffling melody accompanied by a creamy croon and, in the first verse, the wonderful ‘I want you crawling back to me, Down on your knees, yeah; Like an appendectomy, Sans anasthesia’. Ace.
We Are Having A Hootenanny might be poking fun at Scientology but definitely sounds like something from The Muppet Show. So it’s good, obviously. But is it as good as The Swedish Chef doing Yes, We Have No Bananas? You decide…
So, we have another reassuringly lovely Magnetic Fields album – better than previous effort Distortion, not as good as 1995′s synth-tastic Get Lost, if you want to slip it into some theoretical MF league table in your brain. If you haven’t got any Magnetic Fields, don’t be tempted to begin with 69 Love Songs – it’s their most well-known record but there’s just too much to get through, and some of the filler will have you punching yourself in the face with frustration. Realism is a good a place as any to start.
Gloom-core, mope-rock, jazz-sob, you can try to pin down Tindersticks but you’ll never quite nail it.
After a triumphant first three albums (First, Second and Curtains), a shift to a more soulful sound, a messy break-up in 2006, singer Stuart Staples (who almost out-baritones Stephin Merritt) releasing a couple of solo albums and an eventual rebirth with three of the original six members, Tindersticks have, against the odds, made their best record in years.
I could get all CSI on your ass and give you some rigourous analysis of the record but this ain’t Vibraphone Sniffer’s Monthly, so let’s just say it’s a great Tindersticks album. It has to be, as all of their classic constituent parts are there…
Woozy instrumental – check (Hubbards Hills), Morricone-esque rattler – check (She Rode Me Down), delicate piano ballad – check (Factory Girls), duet with a nice lady – check (the endearingly goofy Peanuts, with Mary Margaret O’Hara).
It’s top-notch stuff, with the added bonus of a song that sounds just like Kim Wilde’s Kids In America. Harmony Around My Table is its name, and it even has the temerity to break down halfway through and restart with handclaps. Tindersticks gigs aren’t renowned for their audience participation (apart from the weeping), but this song could be the one to change all that.
Find out for yourself as they play Europe in February and March. There are three UK shows – Edinburgh 22/3, Manchester 23/3, and London, almost certainly with Tiny Dan and I in attendance, on 24/3…
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