Across Six Leap Years

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One has to wonder at the motivation behind Tindersticks' Across Six Leap Years. This look back celebrates their 21st anniversary. That said, after their hiatus in 2006, they returned as a trio instead of a sextet, with guest musicians augmenting each record beginning with The Hungry Saw. These ten tracks were recorded at Abbey Road. Half of them date from the previous century; two more are pre-split, and only one, the closer "What Are You Fighting For," is post; it appeared as a Record Store Day single. It allegedly receives a revisioning here, though one would have to A-B the versions to tell. This highlights the problem with ASLY. The two openers, "Friday Night" and "Marseilles Sunshine," are pre-split cuts, but they first appeared on Stuart Staples' 2005 debut solo effort, Lucky Dog Recordings. Their placement here reveals the often bland nature of these re-recordings -- they remain so close to the original arrangements they merely retread the floorboards with slightly more polish and greater fidelity. The same goes for "A Night In," which originally appeared on the band's second album in 1995. Since Tindersticks is literally half the size of the group that first cut it, it would stand to reason that this leaner machine would compensate with a different chart. Three tracks are marked exceptions. "If You're Looking for a Way Out," a cover of Tindersticks' cover of an Odyssey track that appeared on Simple Pleasure, is looser, more fluid, and more transparent in its connection to '70s-era, East Coast -- i.e. Philly -- soul. "Sleepy Song," whose first version is also from their second album, is performed here with far more tension and drama. The spirit of restraint in its original gives way, and the roiling menace underneath is allowed to surface and breathe as the song's dynamic expands. "Say Goodbye to the City," from Waiting for the Moon, is louder and marginally more uptempo, but the increased drama via the bleating trumpet fills and solo, and the strident female backing chorus coming from the pocket, elevate it. There isn't anything inherently "wrong" with the music on Across Six Leap Years. But given the triumphant The Something Rain from 2012, the retrospective box of Clair Denis film scores issued later that year, and the release of the Salauds score earlier in 2013, this feels more like a shoulder shrug than an anniversary celebration. Perhaps "for hardcore fans only" should be printed on a sticker on the sleeve -- if not stamped on the cover.

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