MP3 Monday: August 14, 2006

Everyone loves story time. So this week’s MP3 Monday is all about the story song — tunes that tell tales. In particular, we’re looking at one of the masters of the craft: the British band Tindersticks. As always, the MP3s will be up for one week, so be quick with your downloading.
My Sister” by Tindersticks. From the album Tindersticks (II) (1995).
Tindersticks were one of my favorite bands in college. I was into moody, reflective, sad stuff at the time — I was at the age where moodiness makes you feel sophisticated and adult. (It also didn’t hurt that Tindersticks were as British a band as there ever was. Another layer of sophistication to poach!)
But while most of that stuff sounds half-baked and mopey today — to my ears at least — the first two Tindersticks albums (released in 1993 and 1995) remain amazing. And while their spoken-word story songs are not always their strongest, it’s a tradition they maintained for a number of albums.
This one, “My Sister,” is gorgeous. The words are sketches of a dark life, and with good headphones on you and a little liquor in you, it’s pure beauty. “Our life was a pillow-fight. We’d stand there on the quilt, our hands clenched ready. Her with her milky teeth, so late for her age, and a Stanley knife in her hand. She sliced the tires on my bike and I couldn’t forgive her.”
Harry’s Dilemma” by Tindersticks. From the album Working For The Man: The Island Years (2004).
Lyrics here. The narrator is bass player Mark Colwill, and the story is the sad tale of Harry, a big happy dog whose condition takes a turn for the worse, complete with a surprise ending. (Surprising musically, if not lyrically, since it comes only halfway through the song’s six minutes.) Originally a b-side from 1995; later released on the retrospective Working For The Man.
Ballad of Tindersticks” by Tindersticks. From the album Curtains (1997).
Lyrics here. This loungy track is the tale of the band’s second American tour and their interactions with the seedy denizens of both coasts. “We’re standing on our heads drinking sours of Crystal Schnapps. Now we’re unable to step back or forward. Swallowing a swallow, tasting it again, it’s not so unpleasant. Perhaps it’s an acquired taste. The first time, it makes you sick; then, little by little, it becomes delicious.”