May 12, 2015 The Charlatans UK – Modern Nature (Album Review)
Many regard The Charlatans UK as one of the forerunners of the so-called Britpop music, especially during the genre’s nascent phase. However, along with the likes of Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets, and Stone Roses, The Charlatans UK have a style that does not really fit the standard shiny and glossy sound of typical Britpop as popularized by more sonically flamboyant bands such as Blur, Oasis, Suede, Pulp, and The Boo Radleys. The music of The Charlatans UK is more characteristic of old Soul adorned with modern sensibilities of Rock, owing to the prominent drone of the Hammond organ, psychedelic-flavored guitars, medium-tempo headshakers, simple lounge-feel drum patterns, and echo-laden dreamy-sounding vocals. Formed in 1988 in West Midlands, England, The Charlatans UK is among those bands that did not really cease activity, but was simply nudged into the sidelines by the arrival of younger and newer bands after the peak of Alternative Rock in the 1990s and by the natural restlessness and weak sense of loyalty of many journalists and listeners. In fact, since the release in 1990 of the band’s debut album, The Charlatans UK never really stopped from gigging, albeit irregularly despite unwelcomed lineup and label changes, releasing studio albums on an average of one every two years. That is considerable prolificacy.
Currently, The Charlatans UK consists of Tim Burgess (vocals), Mark Collins (guitars), Martin Blunt (bass), and Tony Rogers (keyboards). Original keyboardist Rob Collins died in a vehicular accident in 1996; while original drummer Jon Brookes, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2010, finally succumbed to the disease in 2013 after bouts of treatment. Overcoming the tragedies around them, the band still triumph on in their fallen members memories and have gone on to release twelve studio albums including their most recent, Modern Nature, January 26, 2015. Marking the first time the band has taken more than three years to come up with a new album; the previous, Who We Touch, was released in 2010.
Modern Nature opens up with the cool and relaxed “Talking in Tones,” which builds up from the complementary mix of subtle percussion, steady bassline, and organ drone with a touch of Middle Eastern melodic feel—reminiscent of Echo & the Bunnymen Reverberation-era. The danceable “So Oh” then follows, shining through with its bouncy bassline, angular rhythm guitar, and infectious chorus. This style seamlessly seeps into the next track, “Come Home Baby,” albeit in a slower and much more yearning vein. “Keep Enough” is an ear-catcher with its choppy rhythm and jazzy progression. “In the Tall Grass” is a much slower Jazz indulgence, highlighted by an improvised keyboard adlib as well as a vocal and sonic styling that may remind a Pink Floyd fan of this classic band’s ’70s phase. “Emilie” and “Let the Good Times Be Never Ending” will most likely be the instant favorites of fans of classic Britpop—what with the respective songs’ driving bass, drum groove that is sure to induce air drumming, angular rhythm guitar, sparkly and jangly arpeggiated guitar melodies, catchy choruses, and the characteristic drone of the Hammond organ. “I Need You to Know” is a dive into Shoegaze territory—swirling and droning riffs on a wall of distorted sound. “Lean In” is the album’s basic guitar-oriented rocker—simple yet equally engaging. Because of its Synthpop beat, “Trouble Understanding” sounds like an offshoot from Simpatico, the band’s Dub-influenced ninth album of 2006. Finally, “Lot to Say” is an appropriate closer—mild instrumentation, midtempo, and organ-drenched—a seemingly deliberate revisit to the dominant style employed by the band in Some Friendly, their first album released twenty-five years ago.
Overall, Modern Nature is a fine return for the band. The tracks flow naturally into one another, and the five year lay off between new material has not seen them skip a beat. Perhaps the break from writing did the band some good, and the return of Jim Spencer to help in production is certainly felt. That is definitely a long time, but The Charlatans UK still have a lot to say and sing about. For this, CrypticRock gives Modern Nature 4 out of 5 stars.