“Recording these songs again was not so much about righting past mistakes or inadequacies, but more about the power of now…These songs feel like cover versions. Someone else’s music we feel we had something new to bring to” – David Boulter, 2013
“Sorry – we’re not very good musicians” – Stuart Staples, Reading Festival, 1994
Whatever the reason for Tindersticks rerecording selections from their back catalogue, it highlights music’s unique status as pretty much the only art form where artists are allowed, encouraged even, to recreate past work. Music is endlessly remixed, repackaged, reinterpreted live – indeed, the entire classical music industry revolves around the rerecording and performing of old pieces. Whilst it’s impossible to imagine a more mature Martin Amis rewriting The Rachel Papers, or a more thoughtful Woody Allen remaking Love & Death, for musicians it’s the most natural thing in the world.
And yet, when Tindersticks announced they were rerecording 10 songs to celebrate their 20-year anniversary, I had misgivings. More than any other band, the ‘Sticks have been the soundtrack to the last 20 years of my life, through moves (first to London, then Asia), relationships (some short, some longer), marriage, fatherhood, divorce, marriage again (CF:GF was on the playlist at my wedding last month). In short, we’ve grown up, and grown older, together, and last year’s creative rebirth The Something Rain suggested they’re ageing a lot more gracefully than I. To me, their music, for all its flaws and hesitancy, is already perfect – why would they want to revisit it, to mess with those memories?
The answer may lie in the Berlin leg of the Something Rain tour which serendipitously coincided with my attending a trade show in the city last year. It was the first time I’d seen the band live since 2002, and my how they’d changed. Gone were the fluffed intros, awkwardness, apologies; gone was the kitchen sink approach, the flamenco trumpets, orchestras, backing singers. Instead, I found a band at ease with themselves – relaxed, comfortable, exploring their back catalogue with a new-found confidence and allowing their songs to breathe. Where once they sounded like they were auditioning for Scott Walker, they now sounded like they were playing for Al Green.
And so to Across Six Leap Years, 10 old ‘Sticks songs, some well known, some obscure, rerecorded at London’s legendary Abbey Road studios. It is, I am relieved to report, wonderful. How could it not be? Tindersticks could rerecord Limp Bizkit’s Chocolate Starfish and it would still be wonderful. It’s the sound of older men looking at past moments, follies even, and reinterpreting them.
The best moments here are, understandably, songs that didn’t quite work first time round – songs like Dying Slowly, from 2002’s patchy Can Our Love…, and Say Goodbye to the City, from 2003’s Waiting for the Moon, the album that nearly finished the band off for good. Both are imbued with a new confidence and simpler arrangements that throw them into an entirely new light; likewise previous obscurities such as the loungey What Are You Fighting For? and the lugubrious, amusingly mistitled Marseille Sunshine.
What’s really surprising is how songs I had previously considered unimpeachable are given new life. If You’re Looking For a Way Out gains a new swing, more befitting a cover of a song by disco act Galaxy; She’s Gone and A Night In, from that intense, arguably over-arranged second album, are loosened up and given breathing room, the latter in particular reaching new heights as a result; and best of all, I Know that Loving, probably my favourite Tindersticks song ever, now shorn of its string section and transformed into an instant neo-Stax classic.
All those moments of my life that Tindersticks have soundtracked; I can’t go back and change them, however much I might yearn to. Music gives the artist that opportunity, and it’s one that Tindersticks have used well. Here’s to the next 20 years, for both of us.
God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.
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