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Friday, July 7, 2017

The Charlatans: Wonderland


1) You're So Pretty — We're So Pretty; 2) Judas; 3) Love Is The Key; 4) A Man Needs To Be Told; 5) I Just Can't Get Over Losing You; 6) The Bell And The Butterfly; 7) And If I Fall; 8) Wake Up; 9) Is It In You?; 10) Ballad Of The Band; 11) Right On; 12) Love To You.

On this album, the spot-that-reference game takes on a spot-that-reference-for-dummies flavor: "Searching for the very souls who already have been sold / Go on your way accordingly my son / I will privately accept you and together we will fly away..." is such an obvious gift for John Wesley Harding fans that I almost feel corny for having been refused the choice to not privately accept it. Nevertheless, at the very same time The Charlatans also take a very sharp turn away from the musical stylistics of the last two albums, and unless you pay really, really serious atten­tion to the band's lyrics, Wonderland cannot be perceived as a part of some trilogy.

The lead-in track, ʽYou're So Pretty — We're So Prettyʼ, lays the bass on so thick, funky layer after funky layer, that it immediately becomes clear — there have to be some changes made, in­cluding a return to dance-oriented stylistics, what with the last two albums inclining so much in a pure-pop direction. The guitar sound turns to nasty and sleazy, the bass groove goes through near-pornographic girations, and even the lead singer develops a mocking nasal tone, one that is, you know, good for making fun of your ego and inflating it at the same time. As usual, the only thing missing is a sort of magic touch that could really make you shiver as the song's nastiness trickles all over you in ripples and streams. But it is a welcome change of pace and style.

As the songs come and go, you slowly realize that The Charlatans have decided to become an R&B band — a modernized R&B band, but with a heavy touch of classic soul all the same. The rhythmic base of the album is neither straightforward pop-rock nor the old Madchester, but rather the electrofunk of Prince-like performers, sometimes rolled back all the way to old Atlantic and Motown records. In addition, Tim Burgess has taken a liking to singing falsetto — more than half of the songs are either delivered completely in his high range or feature significant chunks deli­vered in a Barry Gibb-inspired manner. Like almost everything that Tim Burgess does, this new vocal style is not bad, but neither is it too stunning.

Strangely, Wonderland has a somewhat more accessible feel to it because, for the first time ever, this transition to a different musical genre has resulted in the band's message feeling simple and straightforward — ʽLove Is The Keyʼ is as direct a title as you could ask for, and no matter how many ad hoc lyrical references to Dylan or anybody else there are in the lyrics, Wonderland is just that: a dance-oriented record about loving, living, and getting it on. This also makes a com­prehensive review of the album particularly challenging — on one hand, it is awful long (the complete edition consists of 15 tracks stretched over more than an hour), on the other hand, most of the songs are thematically similar and do not stretch over any vast expanse of emotional range.

As a duty check, I'll just quickly run over a few relative highlights: ʽI Just Can't Get Over Losing Youʼ — a bit of a bleeding heart touch here, as the singer rushes from moments of breakup panic to visions of lovers' bliss, making it the most emotionally complex number on the album (and quite nice to shake your butt to, as well); ʽAnd If I Fallʼ — the flute adds an irresistibly gentle touch to this little prayer to the power of love; and ʽBallad Of The Bandʼ — the darkest and sleaziest number of 'em all, a hellish picture of hi-style social life that culminates in a musical orgy, replete with wild psychedelic guitar solos and orgasmic vocal overdubs.

Overall, it's a fun listen — the style change works well, and the decision to be more emotionally straightforward and invest more effort into the expression of their feelings works even better. It does not solve the issue of mediocre lead vocals or oh-so-slowly working musical hooks, but it makes the band somewhat more empathetic and endearing; in a way, it is not until Wonderland that The Charlatans truly begin to belie their moniker, so cheers to that and a thumbs up.

1 comment:

  1. > Wonderland is just that: a dance-oriented record about loving, living, and getting it on

    Well, ain't the previous records are exactly the same game? Things went down after 'Wonderland' if I recall it well but up to this moment Charlatans seemed to be a really quality radio-filler band (in a good sense of this word, if there is one). The only complaint for 'Wonderland' — this is where the band got dangerously close to 'dad tries to be contemporary' thing but I'm glad they managed to pull it off.