Falling Down a Mountain
The best album of the year is Falling Down a Mountain by Tindersticks. It is always a terrible idea to make a claim like that so early in the game (let the record show that this claim was uttered on March 3, 2010) , just like it is to say "I love you" early in the game, when you are also saying things like "I even like the way he/she smells in the morning!" to your bored and soon to be distanced friends. We would get nowhere in life, literally, without such foolish premature pronouncements, so as Stuart Stapes finally gets around to saying after the extended intro, "Baby won't you come on? Baby, come on..."
The album that immediately comes to mind while listening to this one is Roxy Music's Avalon, an unabashedly lush relic from the nadir of the New Romantic era. It is hard to imaging that band that was once so radical as Roxy Music would make the ultimate soft rock booty jam statement, swathed in incense and expensive cheese and pants of morning breath condensing on satin sheets, but they did, and it still reigns supreme. Tindersticks stand as a sort of inverted Roxy Music. When Brian Ferry croons half-lidded at you, his pronunciation is slurred because he's licking his lips. Stuart Stapes has a similar gulped delivery, but his is rooted in hunger, unsure that you are going to share summa what you got over there.
The title track is a rollercoaster of exoticism crafted out of a woodblock and the saxophonics of Terry Edwards, and the jolt between the near blank page on which "Keep You Beautiful" is written nearly rolls you out of bed. The only word you can really hear him say is "beautiful" but then its all we want to hear, isn't it? "Peanuts" is similarly spare; the meaning of peanuts as "not much" is confounded by the back and forth between the man and woman
say you love peanuts
I don't care that much
I know you love peanuts
And I love you
So I love peanuts too
and that is what we really want to hear when the expectation of eternal love are being giddily batted about on the onset of love; I don't want much and that's what you have, and I want it all.
Falling Down a Mountain is shockingkly romantic in these bitter "just fuck me already" times. "Harmony Around My Table" strolls out like the Shirelles, marveling at the dumb luck of falling in love and the completeness it brings. "She Rode Me Down" is as subtle as Bo Derek's interpretation of Ravel's Bolero. I think we know precisely down to where the protagonist is being ridden, or better yet, is being taken for a ride.
"Hubbards Hills" is a shadowy dirge that dimly reflects the bright road on which love's bright journey begins. It might be the humming one does during a death march, or it might be the tick of the ceiling fan as you lay on the bed watching it languidly spin, mocking you because your life has stopped. "Black Smoke" is the residue of having "got shot down" as he proclaims, but black smoke also is what you get when you kick off an engine that's been sitting idle too long. Acquiescence is found in the palisades of "No Place So Alone," its ironically upbeat underlayer eerily reminiscent of "Suspicious Minds" - perhaps it is meant to be the answer to those suspicions. Like the King in his later years, Staples tries his best to whip up a frenzy but the ravages of time make it more adorable than it is fearsome. You might still be tempted to shoot at the TV, but the screens are stronger nowadays. You'll end up with a divet center in your reflection.
Our sepia love story slides to a close through "Factory Girls" a haze of piano clouding anything insight he might be offering, any advice he might be provided and it eventually gives way to the spectral apotheosis of "Piano Music." All the love and longing, every kiss and every cross word are bound up into a rope that reaches to the skies, and you give it a tug, unsure to what it is tied up there, and start your slow laborious climb. Your muscles strain, you didn't really think you could climb a rope anymore but there you are suddenly a hundred feet off the ground. The sun blinds as you gaze skyward, hand over blistered hand, pulling yourself to the something/nothing that rewards the trials of love. Maybe Brian Ferry is holding the gate open for you, smiling drunkenly, or maybe it is he/she with whom you fell down that mountain. Either way, through the gate you go.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com