12 November 2015

The Charlatans - Modern Nature

The Charlatans (AKA The Charlatans UK as they are known in America) have always been a strange band for me.  They have had some flashes of awesomeness which make me pay attention - "Over Rising", "Telling Stories", "Werido" - but then they release song that pass me by or just confuse me as to why they are so big.  Even their debut album' Some Friendly' (which I have the album containing the bonus CD) still to this day can either confuse me or make me dance around the house (apart from "The Only One I Know" - again a song I have never understood).  This album was created after the sad passing of drummer Jon Brookes and as such it will (fairly or not) be mentioned with that sad event.  It was produced by The Charlatans and Jim Spencer and the album features various drummers helping out on the record - Peter Salisbury (The Verve), Stephen Morris (New Order) and Gabriel Gurnsey (Factory Floor) - as well as backing singers Melanie Marshall and Sandra Marvin, strings by Sean O'Hagan and brass courtesy of Jim Paterson from Dexys Midnight Runners.  Now let us see how this album sounds.....

“Talking in Tones” starts the album with electronic percussion guiding the drone/indie guitar as Tim Burgess sounds as if he is keeping a watch over the music.  It is a song about feelings towards another person and wishing for their presence in the world.  It is a million miles away from their earlier work or from ‘Telling Stories’ when I last really paid attention to the Charlatans.  It does have a mournful feel as you might expect due to recent events, but it is the first Charlatans song since “Over Rising” that made me take attention of them and want to hear more of their current work.  It feels as if it will become a staple of their live set in the years to come and gives this album a commanding opening.  “So Oh” feels like a long lost Smiths number that has just been unearthed from a lost BBC archive session on the John Peel show, it has a pleasant guitar tone, solid bass and drums with some lovely keyboard work; put that together with a sad set of vocals which give the song a mournful edge, you have an interesting number that will give their listeners time to reflect of jump around a bit.  Depending on my mood, I either really like it or I find myself non-plused and this is something that I have always had with the Charlatans, but it is still well played and does not make me want to reach for the stop button.  The third track is called “Come Home Baby” and this time it is very Paul Weller during the verses, this was starting to become a little worrying as this band has been around long enough to sound like themselves; thankfully it has a kick-ass chorus that saves the song for me as it sounds like a giant release of tension has been extracted from the album.

“Keep Together” is one of the best songs I have heard from the Charlatans ever – I say this at the beginning as I am floored by how good this song is.  With a restrained backdrop, some classic sounding guitars, understated vocals, luscious strings, supportive keyboards and minimal percussion, they have made a contender for song of the year for me.  It is a beautiful gem on this record and make no mistake it will go down as one of the best song of this album, trust me.  “In Tall Grass” brings things back a notch as we are back in a reflective tone for this song.  It feels as if it should have been a summer song, especially for late nights as it feels out of character at this time of year.  The tale of trying to understand a new human being is beautifully crafted and plays to the strengths of the band.  It is also one of the strongest vocals on the album as well, the regret is palpable on this one and it drives the song to a higher level as does the organ solo.  “Emile” picks up the speed a little for this album, with this song about someone’s desire to escape this world and being there when they return to the real world.  The music is well performed once more, but I do find my mind drifting when I listen to this song more than on other tracks on the record.  It is a decent song, but not their strongest.  The next song though is called "Let the Good Times Be Never Ending" which has a healthy dose of psychedelia added to the occasion, much like The Brian Jonestown Massacre on a good day.  It has the horns giving the song a catchy beat, the backing singers are on fire and the band sound relatively happy on this number.  It does grab your attention and will be going down a storm at their live shows, but it is just pipped by the brilliant "Keep Together", but it is a very close second.

“I Need You To Know” is the eighth song on the album and the good time are all gone at this point, the mood is decidedly autumnal with this song as they reflect on events and wishing that they could confess to not wanting to upset someone, or leave them under the impression that something said in the heat of the moment is who they really are. It is certainly an interesting song, a bit of a comedown track compared to "Let the Good Times Be Never Ending" which will probably be a headline stealer for this album.  But "I Need You to Know" is another strong number for this album.  "Lean In" is the next song and it is one of those songs which for some reason or another, just does nothing for me on any level.  I have tried with this song for a while, but it does not stick with me at all which is a real shame as it has a decent beat and does not offend; however it just passes me by and I think it is because it feels like a watered down version of "Let The Good Times Be Never Ending", but I have heard a hell of a lot worse from this band.  The penultimate song is called "Trouble Understanding" and it follows the pattern set by "Lean In", it is musically sound and does not do anything that is wrong - but by the same token it is not doing anything stunning either and it is just drifts by a bit too easy for me and as they say on the song itself - another second....and its gone.  "Lot to Say" ends the album on a sombre note, with a trippy guitar tone, organs and droning vocals that end the album on a sort of fitting note, it is a song that would be easy to be reflective with when you are needing to concentrate on yourself other than the music.

This album is a little bit average for me if I am honest, I think that after 10 months of living with it that it should have gained a little more of a foot hold in my head, yet here I am in November and it is still just alright with a few glorious highlights of brilliance.  That is The Charlatans in a nut shell for me, they always do something that is really stunning and then they create an album that does nothing for me what so ever, yet they never do anything really wrong either.  It is not a bad album and if it was on I would not be bothered, however if it was not on I would not be bothered either and that is just how it is.  It was a really brave move to come back after the passing of Jon Brooks and I am sure this was a cathartic experience for them to deal with it, I am also sure that a lot of people out there with find this to be a beautiful experience and I hope this does not change that experience for them.  It is a mature album from their earlier works and it shows great improvement from when I last encountered them, but it is also not for me either.

5 out of ten - It could have been a bit better

Top track – Keep Together

You can purchase Modern Nature on Amazon here

You can visit the Charlatans website here

You can follow their activities on Facebook here

You can stream Modern Nature on Spotify here

You can stream Modern Nature on Deezer here

You can stream Modern Nature on Tidal here

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