It's sometimes tricky for the front person of an established band to make a solo album: reproduce the group's sound and a side project can seem pointless, or venture into uncharted stylistic territory and court disaster. Stuart Staples sticks closer to the first option, but Lucky Dog Recordings 03-04 breaks with Tindersticks' sound as much as it evokes it. Although Staples' mumbled baritone croon remains unmistakable and he still oozes small-hours melancholia and romantic malaise, Lucky Dog also marks a departure. Aided by, among others, Terry Edwards (sax), Yann Tiersen (piano), Tindersticks cohorts Neil Fraser (guitar) and David Boulter (keyboards), and Tiger Lillies Adrian Huge (drums) and Adrian Stout (bass), Staples eschews the finely wrought, string-enveloped arrangements that are Tindersticks' signature. He trades dissolute, lush grandeur for a minimalist approach, paring the music down, sometimes almost to the point of silence and stasis. The hushed, acoustic "Dark Days" slips by nearly unnoticed and the slow-burning "Marseilles Sunshine" is aural gossamer, its fragile piano notes, wafting organ, and ragged guitar hanging like smoke in the air. While other tracks feel more energized, they're similarly sparse: for instance, the lilting, jagged "Shame on You" and "Friday Night," whose clockwork cocktail beats and droning, spectral organ exude noir unease. Staples continues to languish in miserablism, often ironically; on "People Fall Down," however, he opens the curtains and heads outside, accompanied by a breezy, bluesy groove featuring muted horns. "So get out and breathe the air, taste the water...go climb that hill," he sings, but it still sounds like the weight of the world is on his shoulders. Elsewhere, "She Don't Have to Be Good to Me" approximates Tindersticks' more expansive feel, but, overall, Lucky Dog shows Staples has learned some new tricks: the main one being that less is more.
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AllMusic Review by Wilson Neate