We all know the Tindersticks are versatile and have built up a career being exploratory in everything that they do. The Waiting Room is no different. The band explores dimension through Jobim volume metrics. And what is great to experience is that the band is creating some of the best work of their career right now.
Every single song on this album is as monumental on its own as it is as a whole. You cannot help but feel the lump sum of Nick Cave to Nick Drake to American Music Club to Leonard Cohen to ‘60s artistic leisure. And what wraps around these songs (the steel drums on “Hey Lucinda” or the Satie-like piano minimalism of “Planting Holes”) never made you feel more introverted than these moments alone.
Moreso than any of their other nine albums, you get a distinct feeling of mortality from within. “Dreamers” feels like Stuart Staples is driving you straight into the abyss with his close-eyed moniker. “Time’s running out,” professes Staples on “Hey Lucinda,” which he balances a beautiful ballad with Llasa De Sela as vocals break up a blues-tinted darkness with an even more sobering message: “These dirty little cigarettes we smoke, and the liquor it just throws a cloak over the feelings we should show.” This was Llasa’s parting gift before she passed away from breast cancer in 2010. The glimmer in this song comes right before the album dives deeper with a Camus-like philosophy that he brings up in Staples’ Zola-esque perspective on “Fear of Emptiness.” She sings, “I may be waiting for you.” As hopeful a that feels from within the context of this song, they carefully frame the word “may” instead of “will” because when it comes to barebones human emotion, there is a constant fog of uncertainty shrouding everything that we do and everything that we become.
“Fear of Emptiness” is just transitional, a passing instrumental moment. Even when it feels like they are going to drop the big one on us, we are left with just gentle contemplation. As eluding as life is with time moving around you so fast, and different ideas and perspectives intersecting in different places, it can all seem surreal, much like the short films they made for “Hey Lucinda” and “We Are Dreamers.” A team up with Jehnny Beth of Savages, they echo cinéma vérité with haunting realism.
And just like that, they end with the Gainsbourg afterglow of “Like Only Lovers Can.” Cigarette smoke dissipates into a cloudy urban skyline with clothes draped like corpses across the bedroom floor, the band stays as close to the basics as they can here.
Why is something like The Waiting Room potentially one of the greatest albums out there? It’s not a happy album, nor is is disposable. That is why. We take comfort in its life to serve as a backdrop to us. Everyone can relate to some degree. We feel challenged without it being challenging. As they are expressing the ideas of humanism, we are reflecting on being human. As Zola said in The Joy of Life, ““Did not one spend the first half of one’s days in dreams of happiness and the second half in regrets and terrors?” There is both of this going on in the comfort of the music and lyrics of what the Tindersticks have created. If only we had more current artists willing to cross that line.