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Friday, August 18, 2017

The Charlatans: Modern Nature


1) Talking In Tones; 2) So Oh; 3) Come Home Baby; 4) Keep Enough; 5) In The Tall Grass; 6) Emilie; 7) Let The Good Times Be Never Ending; 8) I Need You To Know; 9) Lean In; 10) Trouble Understanding; 11) Lot To Say; 12*) We Sleep On Borrowed Time; 13*) Walk With Me; 14*) As Long As You Stick By Me; 15*) I Will Never Leave You (demo).

Time takes its toll even on such indefatigable grunts as The Charlatans, as it took them a whole three years after the release of Who We Touch to reconvene for their next sessions — and then the creative process was delayed by the gruesome death of yet another band member, this time, drummer Jon Brookes, succumbing to brain cancer at the age of 44. The natural conclusion is that this is why Modern Nature sounds so gloomy; however, if I understand correctly, many of the songs had been written already before Jon's death, and it is not a given that the record would have a merrier vibe to it, had their old pal lived.

It does, perhaps, explain why the record has such a crappy drum sound throughout — for one thing, this is the first time ever that they rely so heavily on drum machines, and second, there is no less than four different guest drummers trying to fill Jon's shoes, including New Order's Stephen Morris on one track and Verve's Peter Salisbury on a bunch of others: all of them are there to lend a hand, but none of them has any incentive to sound perfectly in touch with the rest of the band. Admittedly, though, it's not as if the band were using them for particularly fabulous material, so no hard feelings.

As sorry as I am for such an awfully premature death, I am not going to pretend that the grim, gray vibe of Modern Nature is particularly effective on my feelings. The Charlatans had been getting grimmer and grimmer as the 2000s rolled by, and this record takes them as far as they can possibly go in that respect. Generally slow tempos, minor keys, dark mournful basslines, lots of funereal synthesizers, and a lead vocalist who had rarely managed to sound exciting when he tried to sound exciting — and now he has just as much trouble convincing me that he has finally placed the entire weight of the world on his shoulders. It goes without saying that «hooks» are among the last objects of thought on this record.

Basically, this is just a set of moody adult contemporary tunes: you do not need to go further than the first thirty seconds of ʽTalking In Tonesʼ to decide whether you are going to like this record or not. The bass sets a minimal tombstone-oriented groove, the barely audible organ sounds like part of an inobtrusive funeral liturgy, the vocals sound dead and bored. All the ingredients to drown you in a sea of sorrow are there, but seem way past expiration date. And the same mood permeates all of the first half of the record. The dreary gray clouds begin to slightly disperse with the arrival of ʽLet The Good Times Be Never Endingʼ, a fast, funky, and self-ironic (which is already evident by the way its title contrasts with its grim mood) rocker whose chief fault is overstaying its welcome by about 2-3 minutes; but even though it is followed by a couple more relatively upbeat numbers, the irreparable damage has already been done.

Bottomline: just as The Charlatans had been mediocre in portraying youthful excitement and exuberance, just as they had been mediocre in portraying sarcasm and Dylanesque haughtiness, so are they mediocre in their portrayal of deep human tragedy. How could I ever explain this? I have no idea. I am simply amazed at how well they know every single trick (they must have studied their Floyd, Cure, and Radiohead by heart), and at how inept they end up sounding when they try using any of these tricks. Everything is right — but nothing works. Thumbs down.


  1. I really think you should abandon the alphabetical schedule if it means forcing yourself to write about oatmeal like this instead of, say, laying into Modern Talking like you've been threatening to do for almost 20 years now.

  2. Correct. Also it seems Tim Burges had stopped listening to other people's music or at least does it much less often. I liked Charlatans when they were inspired by Oasis/Stone Roses/Whatever (not the Oasis single but I'd like to hear this one, too).

    For the last 15 years, though, it seems that Tim, a really cool and nice chap in person, by the way, has been hanging out with some generic bands just because they are nice and cool people in real life, too. But through autobiographies and personal experience I've learnt that for musicians being nice doesn't automatically lead to nice music. Obviously, Tim isn't pushing himself anymore. I would say, despite the tragedies and hardships, the Charlatans had rooted themselves in comfort zone too much.