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Tindersticks | Bareback (Beggars Banquet)
Being a long-time Tindersticks fan is no easy thing. Not only do you have to shake-off the Vic Reeves club singer put-downs from detractors and the tiresome no-brained plagiarists who've aped the band left, right and centre; you also have to put up with band just being themselves.  Not in the literal sense of course, but as any stoic follower will know, the Tindersticks can be painfully cruel custodians of their own rich body of work. So when their former label hosts, Island Records, gave them a chance to clean-up and expand their classic early back catalogue in 2004, they fluffed it. Which meant giving loyalists something they might play once (a bonus disc of early demos with their repackaged eponymous debut) or already own (multi-format b-sides from their high-profile 'Curtains' era) but not what they craved just to avoid crazy eBay prices (the band's precious early singles and the rare mail-order 'Amsterdam' live album). Now comes the group's first long-awaited DVD collection - a belated chance to shine a light on the Tindersticks' seldom seen on-screen history.  

Yet being the Tindersticks, the buggers just don't play ball with the concept of doing something with a 'definitive' ethos. Hence there's no live footage (some of their once televised Glastonbury performance from the early-'90s would have done nicely), no TV studio appearances (despite there being a memorable Jools Holland appearance in the Beeb's archives) and most maddeningly of all, there's the failure to include the supremely affecting video for No More Affairs. Honestly, just scanning through the skinny tracklist is enough to make a 'Sticks fan feel cheated. But in some ways, it's to be expected when it comes to this stubbornly brilliant (or is that brilliantly stubborn?) institution. So in fairness to the product in hand then, we must at least attempt a critique of the contents that this DVD actually does include.

Taking the first four clips in isolation, there's a good argument for suggesting the band make suitably well-balanced choices for their filmic presentations.  The surprisingly simple, but effective, film for City Sickness (co-directed by one Jarvis Cocker, no less) goes a long way to capturing the song's altruistic escapism.  The gentle mix of domesticity and faded glamour makes the grainy promo for Travelling Light a touching companion to its parent track.  By track three, Bathtime, the band's briefly beefy Island budget allowed for the luxury of a sharp moody black and white studio performance piece.  After such dramatic gloom comes the almost hilarious treatment of Rented Rooms (here in its big-band assisted 'swing' version), which unearths the 'Sticks seldom exposed sense of camp and self-deprecation, with the assistance of leggy cabaret showgirls - no, really.  By Can We Start Again? the band clearly gave-up trying to make enjoyable videos, lip-syncing so badly you wish they'd never even tried.  Following that, things slide from the pretentious (the split-screen story-based affair for Can Our Love) to the painfully ponderous (Don't Ever Get Tired and Sometimes It Hurts) and back to the pretentious again (the short 'The Art of Love of Making' film, soundtracked by the group's recent Sexual Funk instrumental b-side).

Naturally, these nine films were never really expected to gain much airtime, so to pick holes in them like they were grand cinematic statements is perhaps a little harsh.  But expecting fans to buy this DVD for more than completing-the-collection's sake is somewhat exploitative.  Especially when there is so much better value material excluded and so little extra to soften the blow (two slightly different versions of Travelling Light and Don't Ever Get Tired are hardly worthy of 'bonus' material status).  Ultimately though, as an act of keeping us guessing and yearning for more, the Tindersticks once again prove themselves as frustrating masters of their trade.

Adrian Pannett
February-April 2005