A few bars into opener ‘For the Beauty‘, which mines the same rich seam of Erik Satie melancholia as Japan’s peerless ‘Nightporter‘, it become obvious that No Treasure But Hope is going to be a good ‘un, as one of our finest bands get back to basics and, as a result, back to their best. Gone is the envelope-pushing of 2012’s brilliant The Something Rain, and the aimlessness of 2016’s The Waiting Room – NTBH is a concise, stripped down set of string-laden chamber pop, and very possibly their best album since the 1999 career high that was Simple Pleasure.
The line “Tears fall into our beer” from the epically sad ‘Trees Fall‘ is a bit of a giveaway here – if you were going to write a Tindersticks parody song you’d almost certainly include a line about tears falling into an alcoholic drink of some description, and it’s an indicator that the band are back on home ground, making finer mournful late-night drinking music than anyone else ever has. ‘The Old Man’s Gait‘, Staples viewing his relationship with his son via his relationship with his own father (“He’s not so steady on his pins…not so ready with his affection“), is one of the most moving things they’ve ever done, and given that this band have moved me to tears more often than any other that’s saying something. The closing title track even sees them getting political – “No love on our streets, no treasure but hope“, sung in a world-weary tone that suggests even the hope is in pretty short supply.
But it’s not all salty beverages, and the ‘Sticks balance the sadness with moments that are uplifting and, on occasions, positively jaunty. The sprightly waltz of ‘The Amputees‘ is one of the prettiest tunes of their career, whilst ‘Take Care in Your Dreams‘ is, er, engagingly dreamy. Best of all is recent single ‘Pinky in the Daylight‘, a truly gorgeous ballad with a chorus to die for and a string section that carries the song to heights they’ve not touched for a good couple of decades. It may even be the loveliest song they’ve ever recorded.
If there’s one fly in the ointment here it’s ‘See My Girls‘, one of those ‘what the hell were they thinking’ moments that bands sometimes come up with but from which Tindersticks have previously been immune. The tale of an African or Middle Eastern newspaper seller whose daughters are travelling the world and sending him photos of their experiences, its admittedly potentially interesting concept is let down by Stuart Staples getting rather too enthusiastically into character and singing in a somewhat ‘problematic’, shall we say, foreign accent (“The tall buildings of the America! The ‘skyscrapers’ as they are known!“). Well goodness gracious me. It’s a shame as its mantra-like, Eastern-tinged musical backdrop is by the far the most ambitious and interesting arrangement on the record, but if I ever hear it again even the finest chiropodist on Harley Street wouldn’t be able to get my toes uncurled.
But the joy of the digital format means I can delete that one misstep, and transform No Treasure But Hope into the concise nine-track masterpiece it should have been. It’s so good to have them back doing what they do best, and oh how I’ve missed the taste of tears in my beer.