The Waiting Room is Tindersticks tenth studio album. Musically, it touches on virtually all the places they've visited in the past, but offers hints at new directions too. The soundtrack vibe the band have given off since they started working with director Claire Denis back in the late '90s, is virtually ever-present, but it doesn't bog down the album. They, along with Stuart Staples in particular, are so steeped in cinema that each song here warranted its own short film short by a different director -- Rosie Pedlow & Joe King, Christoph Girardet Gabriel Sanna, and Denis included. There are also hints of the taut emotional drama they so effortlessly showcased in earlier years, though it's colored by more restraint. First single "Hey Lucinda" is a posthumous duet with singer/songwriter Lhasa de Sela, who passed away from breast cancer in 2010. Glockenspiels are treated to sound like pan steel drums, helping to create an unusually exotic and slippery groove and an unlikely pop song. De Sela's aching vocal stands in sharp contrast to Staples' sense of buttoned-down sexual repression that threatens to escape the control of his quivering baritone. The electric piano at the forefront of the nocturnal "Second Chance Man" finds Tindersticks at their softest and most inward looking; that is, before they pick up the tempo and horns cut in, framing the lyric in a new take on Celtic soul. "Hello Yourself" is an unusual, catchy, extremely moody take on the Afro-beat of Peter King and Tony Allen. Again, Staples' croon tries to escape, grabbing hold of the dramatic lyric and reveling in the finger-popping instrumental arrangement; that he can't escape provides the necessary tension, making the track a signature success. On the preceding "Were We Once Lovers," Tindersticks incorporate elements of atmospheric jazz-funk to excellent effect; it's the most passionate track on the set. The Savages' Jehnny Beth guests on "We Are Dreamers!" This cut comes uncomfortably close to Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds territory, but ultimately eludes it due to the rumbling, noir-ish intensity brought by David Boulter's spooky Wurlitzer (which suggests the influence of the Doors à la "Riders on the Storm"), while Dan McKinna's bass is distorted and played with sinister menace. Their creative use of horns and strings on the spoken word "How He Entered" is not enough to rescue it from Staples' over-sincere (even maudlin) delivery. The instrumental "Planting Holes" is more a quasi-ambient serial film cue than a song. Another one, "This Fear of Emptiness," works well, but it's almost dubby due to its reverb, spacy B-3, and forlorn melodica. While The Waiting Room is a mixed bag, it's far more relaxed and sure of itself than Across Six More Leap Years was. Though far from absent, the notion of pursuing cinematic textures has taken a back seat to exploring new approaches in songwriting and orchestration.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek