The only way they know how to

Review by Sam Chambers

charlatansOver the years, The Charlatans have had to learn a thing or two when it comes to overcoming adversity.

In 1996 they lost founding member and keyboardist, Rob Collins, in a road accident. Then, just eighteen months ago, another original member, drummer John Brookes, sadly lost his three-year battle with cancer, leaving his band mates distraught.

Suffering such devastating set-backs, allied with frontman Tim Burgess’ crippling addictions of the past, might have caused many a lesser band to call it a day and no one would have blamed them.

In fact, their contemporaries from the Holy Triumvirate of the Madchester-era, The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays, have split, reformed and split again, while The Charlatans, however, continue to endure in Stones-like fashion.

Inevitably, over time, their music, much like the band themselves, has mellowed.  Gone are the big dance-fused anthems of their nineties heyday, and in their place is a more mature, laidback and yet still unmistakably Charlies sound, as evidenced here in new album, ‘Modern Nature’.

The band’s 12th studio album, and first for five years, maintains the fundamental ingredients to a solid Charlatans album – clever hooks and organ-driven tunes (see the brilliantly catchy ‘Come Home Baby’)  – but there is a clear soul influence on ‘Modern Nature’, particularly in the gloriously brilliant ‘Keep Enough’ and album-closer ‘Lot to Say’.

The passing of Brookes was, of course, intrinsically linked to the difficult process of making this first album without him and there is poignancy to Burgess’ lyrics here (especially in the disco-esque ‘Let the Good Times Be Never Ending’), serving as a fitting dedication to the late drummer.

It must have been a heart-wrenching task to fill the gaping hole left by their comrade, but nevertheless the band enlisted the help of some illustrious friends to take his place on the drum stool. 

New Order’s Stephen Morris, The Verve’s Pete Salisbury and Gabriel Gurnsey of Factory Floor, all took their turn on the kit and Salisbury’s influence, especially, can be heard, playing on the rockier ‘Lean In’ and early Charlies reminiscent ‘I Need to Know’, as well as the stand-out tracks ‘Talking in Tones’ and single ‘So Oh’.

This album might not be to everyone’s taste – the most ardent fans of the band’s faster, earlier sound, for example – but for the majority, however, the record represents a huge step forward stylistically and emotionally.

To them, it is the assured sound of a band rolling with life’s punches, confidently proving there is life in the old dog yet.

The message is clear: The Charlatans are going nowhere.

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