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Friday, July 28, 2017

The Charlatans: Simpatico


1) Blackened Blue Eyes; 2) NYC (There's No Need To Stop); 3) For Your Entertainment; 4) Dead Man's Eye; 5) Muddy Ground; 6) City Of The Dead; 7) Road To Paradise; 8) When The Lights Go Out In London; 9) The Architect; 10) Glory Glory; 11) Sunset & Vine.

Many people rate this album as the absolute nadir of The Charlatans' career, and I think I can see why — for the first time ever, they sound hopelessly lost. They clearly want more change, and can find none. Return to their Madchester roots? Even for the oh-so-permissively eclectic 21st century, that's a bit of a stretch. Go on post-modernizing Bob Dylan and his peers? They have probably taken all the ridicule they could with this schtick. Try that smooth'n'sexy falsetto dance vibe of Wonderland one more time? Now that the world has got Franz Ferdinand, who the heck would need the feeble shadow of The Charlatans?...

Up At The Lake seemed like a breather, an album made on-the-spot without too much thought behind it, and perhaps too many people noticed it, because on their next record, the band goes for a louder, more in-yer-face sound — and it is strangely ineffective. The first track is arguably the best one: ʽBlackened Blue Eyesʼ opens with a nervously paranoid piano riff, explosive guitar whippings, and dramatic synthesized strings to announce personal tragedy ("and there won't be a dry eye in the house tonight!", proclaims one of the least tear-inducing frontmen in Britpop his­tory, although he does mean that ironically). There's a bit of a "New Romantic" flavor to the track, but with solid melodic hooks and crunchy production, that is actually a plus. But after that, things start getting really messy.

The dance-rock novelty number ʽNYC (There's No Need To Stop)ʼ sounds like a ridiculously cocky attempt to write something in between classic Blondie and modern Franz Ferdinand, with neither the bitter humor of the former or the hip modernity of the latter. It is a strange number, yet it is still miles above their several attempts to incorporate ska and reggae elements into their music: ʽFor Your Entertainmentʼ, ʽCity Of The Deadʼ, ʽRoad To Paradiseʼ, ʽThe Architectʼ — somebody must have been on a serious diet of Bob Marley, Madness, and UB40 to get all that stuff on the album, and while I would not go as far as to call the results awful, they are pretty un­remarkable. When you get ska riffs, deep bass vocal harmonies, and a not-too-convincing howl of "it's burning, burning love in the city of the dead!", the results are stuck exactly midway between comic and tragic, and the song becomes ineffective.

Elsewhere, the album fluctuates between slow, power-chord driven pop-rock (ʽDead Man's Eyeʼ), banal trip-hop (ʽMuddy Groundʼ), and exercises in modernized rootsiness (the gospel-stylized ʽGlory Gloryʼ). None of these are interesting in any particular way — the only good thing I can say is that everything is played in an atmosphere of tired resignation: "I sit on the muddy ground, waiting for you... I'm still waiting for you" describes the general mood of the record pretty fine. Maybe this is why they went for reggae — the sounds of the oppressed and humiliated ones. The problem is, it is hard for me to sympathize with the plight of a band as mediocre as The Charla­tans, especially when they tackle styles where almost everything depends on personal charisma rather than notes and chords.

The fascination with reggae is this time reflected even in the closing instrumental, ʽSunset & Vineʼ, which at least gets a fun moody keyboard theme, but otherwise reads like an exercise in breaking the barriers between reggae and adult contemporary. On the whole, it is probably a suitable ending for such a limp and tired record — and this definition does not so much contradict its previously mentioned loud, in-yer-face nature as render it meaningless. Here, they're loud and powerless. The songs aren't hopeless — they are just deadly boring.

1 comment:

  1. I'm surprised it's not a thumbs down, since this time Charlatans clearly have no understanding what direction they're heading to. The record's just all over the place and the digs at Blondie of Franz Ferdinand sound just pathetic.

    'Blackened Blue Eyes' is nice, though. Probably, the only track worth saving.