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Friday, July 21, 2017

The Charlatans: Up At The Lake


1) Up At The Lake; 2) Feel The Pressure; 3) As I Watch You In Disbelief; 4) Cry Yourself To Sleep; 5) Bona Fide Treasure; 6) High Up Your Tree; 7) Blue For You; 8) Loving You Is Easy; 9) Try Again Today; 10) Apples And Oranges; 11) Dead Love.

This is, I think, the first ever Charlatans album that is totally neutral — at long last, they just give up trying to impress you with their mastery of a certain style or with their cool and not-so-subtle appropriation of classic motives and tropes, and simply make an album of music, in whatever shades and under whichever sauces it happens to come to them at the moment. This results in no miracles — even humility and simplicity cannot make up for lack of genius — but it cures some of the itchy irritation I often get when listening to their quotation-infused rewrites or to the more stylistically monotonous albums in their catalog. Compared to those, Up At The Lake at least seems artistically healthy and wholesome.

They do not abandon the neo-electro-pop-funk-whatever vibe of the last album, but now it is only one integral part in a properly reassembled stylistic kaleidoscope, along with elements of music hall, classic power pop, distorted alt-rock, and acoustic folk. The title track that opens the album seems more influenced by Todd Rundgren and Cheap Trick than Prince, and sets the proper tone for much, if not most, of what is to come: steady, reliable, professional, but not tremendously exciting pop-rock. Not tremendously exciting, because once again The Charlatans hesitantly me­ander on the threshold of completing the achievement — ʽUp At The Lakeʼ is a study in love­struck desperation that only gets the bronze prize because neither the guitar work of Mark Collins nor the vocals of Tim Burgess truly convey that desperation. Cool fast tempo, nice vocal hooks, but everything stops just short of greatness — not the first and far from the last time in Charlatan history, might I add.

They even turn to a form of pub rock on ʽAs I Watch You In Disbeliefʼ, where Burgess concocts a character-asassinating story with a Dylanesque twist (but, fortunately, no more direct lifts from Dylan lyrics) and narrates it in strings of lengthy verses to the grind of a thick-heavy pop riff; and here, too, you feel the whole thing could be more fun if... if... well, either if it had been written and recorded in 1965, or if they'd handed it over to Cheap Trick. Preferably in 1977. Still, even in this version it is fun, and I would rather have the Charlatans doing power pop than sentimen­tal power balladry: ʽCry Yourself To Sleepʼ is slow, dreary mope balladry in alt-rock format that should probably be featured on Coldplay rather than Charlatans albums.

The toned-down funky vibe still resurges on ʽFeel The Pressureʼ, the album's most openly moder­nistic number and, ironically, also the one where they can't help slipping in another lyrical refe­rence: "Am I old enough, am I young enough, am I tough enough... to feel the pressure?" swiftly brings to mind the Stones' ʽBeast Of Burdenʼ, especially coupled with the same overall message of getting out of your other's suffocating grip. At the end of the day, the song's danceable chorus might be the single most memorable moment on the album — meaning that, no matter how much they get out of their skin to recreate the dashing pop vibes of the Sixties and Seventies, they are still, by their very nature, a dance-oriented Madchester-bred outfit, and that the falsetto-laced R&B spirit of Wonderland was no fluke, but should, perhaps, have been nurtured and developed to a far higher degree on Up At The Lake.

Although the record is surprisingly short for a band that liked to take its time in the Nineties, the last bunch of songs just passes me by without a trace — way too formulaic and even, I'd say, sim­plistic, so that I actually find myself missing their traditional streams of borrowing (at least those gave some food for the starving reviewer). All of it is listenable, though, and I guess that hardened fans of the band will not be disappointed in the end; but ultimately, there is simply nothing to write about.

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