City Slang (label)
19 February 2021 (released)
19 February 2021
Cover versions, done well, seek to get to the heart and soul of the song, strip the original down, deconstruct and then reconstruct the properties whilst rigorously studying the elements and qualities. This then enacts a rebirthing process of dis-covery and un-covery in a process of diligent dissembling and rigid reassembling.
Where a perfunctory X Factor-style ‘rendition’ says, does and gives nothing to alter the fabric or rubric of the essence of the song (simply cynically reminding passive receivers through a simulacra of an earlier memory of a superior original), with care and concern the messages of magic of great(er) art can be (re)covered. Got it?
On Tindersticks’s thirteenth album, ‘Distractions’, the group (ultra-sultry crooner Stuart Staples, Neil Fraser, David Boulter, Dan McKinna and Earl Harvin) effortlessly blend three reinterpretations (Neil Young; Dory Previn; Television Personalities, no less) with four new offerings.
Opener the eleven-minute “Man Alone (Can’t Stop the Fadin’)” is reminiscent of Kurt Wagner’s forays from alt-country rock in Lambchop into electro-sonics with HeCTA. A subtle minimal motorik pulse hangs hypnotically, with ever-so-slight subtle shifts in back-sound supported and strengthened by that ever-distinctive hush-holler of Staples. Soothingly spectral.
Apparitions, visions, intuitions then (re)appear in ‘I imagine you’: vividly crepuscular, sparsely seductive, the fleeting flickers in the tricking twilight of the mind’s-eye, the shadows of the heightened senses. Is it a lament to loss and a traipse through the traces of existence or a summoning and willing into reality ‘a ghost’ of a future dream? Desperately cryptic.
Neil Young’s ‘A man needs a maid’ (with Gina Foster on harmonies) gets an understated, dark cabaret going over. The song’s longing and necessary neediness (‘to give a lot, you’ve got to live a lot … be a part of’) starkly captures its human essence. The longing for belonging continues on Dory Previn’s ‘The Lady with braid’. Again, the delicacies, intricacies and necessities of companionship and the out of control feelings that are aroused are both tantalising and terrifying. Staples cooingly captures Previn’s heartfelt hanging cry: ‘when you leave … will you come back?’
The Television Personalities’ ‘You’ll have to scream louder’ is as timely now as it was back in 1984. A rage against the machinations that power structures foment, permit and orchestrate, the systematic oppression of minorities, the coerced suppression of majorities. As the jangling guitars and steady backbeat gradually build and mount the anger and despair increases in the atmosphere.
The horror and the perennial aftershock Bataclan shootings in Paris in 2015 is mournfully articulated on ‘Tue-Moi’. The piano leading then following the sadness in the vocals. A Gallic symbol.
Closer ‘The Bough Bends’ begins with an exhale and the sound of birdsong. A bucolic, pastoral run-through of recollections and forgotten memories (‘the ecstasy of erasure … blank and clean’) that suggest a past gone sad, a future in ruins.
The narrative arc throughout is wonderfully outlined, a collection of expressively naked moods and reassuring words of love, loss and hope.
After a year of fractured and stretched existences this is a welcome balm.