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Friday, August 11, 2017

The Charlatans: Who We Touch


1) Love Is Ending; 2) My Foolish Pride; 3) Your Pure Soul; 4) Smash The System; 5) Intimacy; 6) Sincerity; 7) Trust In Desire; 8) When I Wonder; 9) Oh!; 10) You Can Swim / On The Threshold / Sing The Body Eclectic.

Good question, boys; although it may be worth noting that this record charted much higher than its predecessor, and on the whole, commercial fortunes of The Charlatans in the 2010s have shown a steady increase compared to the fairly unhappy 2000s. One could argue that by 2010, The Charlatans, like most formerly famous Britpop bands that managed to clench their teeth and survive, had simply passed into «semi-legendary» status — that in their native homeland, people simply buy up Charlatans records like they'd buy up Paul McCartney and Rolling Stones records, without even giving them much of a listen. But wouldn't that be too much honor for these guys? Then again, the idea of a good Charlatans single might have gotten heavily ingrained in the sub­conscious of the average 1990s teenager...

...anyway, this is all pointless digression. Who We Touch is a nicely polished record of catchy, polite, not particularly exciting alt-pop tunes. Curiously, they chose Youth (Martin Glover) as their producer this time, so feel free to pick on similarities with The Verve, or Embrace, or what­ever other alt-rock group he produced — the problem is, whatever The Charlatans used to be, they just aren't that any more. Most importantly, Tony Rogers' organ has been pushed so low in the mix that they have lost this last trademark of their original sound. Instead, emphasis is placed on multi-tracked vocals, multi-tracked acoustic and electric guitars, synthesized and (occasionally) non-synthesized strings, in short, anything to get these guys a massive wall of sound that will make them sound loud, proud, and completely anonymous.

The songs are not bad, though; I'd say they are doing something on the level of classic Ash now, and while I'm not a fan of either, this is far from the worst pop-rock produced in that period. It's all about catchy choruses now, and many of them are in good taste — as long as you have the patience to sit through the opener, ʽLove Is Endingʼ, where the chugging alt-rock guitar drone pretty much kills off any attempt to make its chorus into anything special. It is just one of those generic tunes, you know, that justify the entire «guitar rock is on its way out» approach.

But ʽMy Foolish Prideʼ, coming right on its heels, is a big improvement. With pianos and strings taking the place of big bad guitars, it manages to create just the right atmosphere of tenderness and repentance in the chorus. The decision to culminate each chorus with the acappella delivery of the line "make love, not war" is questionable, but since it comes right after the Beatlesque descending line of "sweet emissary tapping at my door", I guess we can forgive it even if we disagree with it. Here, then, is a nice side effect of The Charlatans aging and getting more senti­mental and self-critical — they become capable of occasional moments of touching beauty, even if they do tend to get unnoticed behind the regular veil of mediocrity. (Frankly, there is nothing in this song beyond the chorus that is salvageable).

Whatever happens after these two not-so-far-removed extremes falls somewhere in between, and, frankly, does not deserve lengthy discussions. Personally, I fall asleep now whenever they try to recapture a bit of that old funk vibe (ʽYour Pure Soulʼ), get positively offended when they slap the title ʽSmash The Systemʼ onto a song that has nothing to do with Rage Against The Machine, but come alive again for ʽIntimacyʼ and ʽSincerityʼ: the former is a slightly mystical, somewhat Roxy Music / ABC-inspired decadent power ballad, the latter a fast and tightly focused pop-rocker with retro-futuristic synths and a cool shout-out chorus — a successful completion of the task initiated and provisionally failed with ʽLove Is Endingʼ. As the album nears the end, though, it begins to bog down again, particularly with the interminable ballad ʽOh!ʼ and the droning atmospheric mood piece ʽYou Can Swimʼ (whose entire melodic base is more in line with blowing bubbles at the bottom of the swimming pool rather than actually swimming).

Adding insult to injury, the band ends up proceedings with a hidden track that consists of perfor­mance artist Penny Rimbaud delivering a lengthy lyrical piece to a repetitive, quasi-Gothic musi­cal background. I have nothing against the art of Penny Rimbaud (of which, admittedly, I know quite little, since beat poetry is not really my thing), but I have no idea why he has to be featured on a Charlatans record rather than, say, a Patti Smith one. Isn't it too late for these guys to buy up creed from aging beatniks, anyway? This could never be a good idea, let alone the fact of its total incompatibility with the bulk of this fairly normal pop record. Admittedly, it is a hidden track, so it is legitimate for us to pretend it does not exist.

The good news, therefore, is that The Charlatans have tightened up their craft, and are now pro­ducing a conveyer line of pop songs, some of which might even stick in your head. The bad news is that, well, just about anybody could have done this record, given a skilful producer and a few years of musical expertise behind their backs. The surprising news is how they persist — five LPs over ten years? in the twenty-first century? this kind of tenaciousness is bound to get you somewhere — I mean, look at Brian Jonestown Massacre, for instance, where every once in a while Anton Newcombe comes out with a masterpiece, stuck between several pieces of utter boredom. And so, at the expense of a complete loss of identity, Who We Touch is probably their best offering since Wonderland, though still not worthy of a thumbs up, in my opinion.


  1. With this album Charlatans finally entered a "Their best album since ..." phase. I remember 2004 when Charlatans were still cool, you know, smart kids with good taste, haircuts and leather jackets. What happened after is the exact reason most teenagers don't want to grow up.

    There was a 2 disc, by the way and it containted this track I really loved more than the cuts, which made it to the final album.

    1. Damn, what's up with the Blogspot authentification?