September 5, 2001
Charlatans : Wonderland
Swaggering survivors' best record yet...
8 / 10
The story so far: our five heroes have battled through towering adversity
(surely you don't need their various crushing mishaps listed again) to
become the most durable British rock band of the last 12 years. A brilliant
singles band. A terrific live proposition. And now a great album band, too.
Who'd have guessed they'd pull that last feat out of the locker this late in
the game? There can be few bands, past or present, who could use their
singer's emigration to the other side of the world as the springboard to
creative rejuvenation, but that's what's happened here. With Tim Burgess now
living in LA, The Charlatans have been reborn. They have a new sound, a
warm, lush and funky noise powered by producer Danny Sabre's sympathetic
programming alongside Tony Rogers's bold keyboards, and they've created a
great party record with it.
We're talking about an ecstasy and cocaine party, to be precise (it's no
surprise that the album's good times centrepiece 'Ballad Of The Band' was
originally entitled 'Ianocce'...must we spell it out?) and the various mood
swings that any party fuelled by those chemicals involves.
There's the brash, up for anything opening trio of 'You're So Pretty - We're
So Pretty', 'Judas' and 'Love Is The Key', the latter being the song Black Crowes
have been grasping at for so many years now. There's the
soft-focus confessional lovers rock of 'A Man Needs To Be Told' (hee, hee)
and the quite beautiful My Bloody Valentine
play Memphis flutter of the
closing 'Love To You': not only an ambitious song, but also Burgess' most
affecting vocal display to date.
There's the brittle comedown self-awareness of 'And If I Fall' and 'Right
On', the pin-eyed lust of 'Is It In You' ('Is it in you?' gasps Tim, 'I'm a
hunk of burning love"...ooh la,la!), the excellent Sly Stone
'Ballad Of The Band' ....it's a big mental party. And in the middle of the
party Tim Burgess is dancing with his wife and singing love songs to her.
Quite often in a falsetto.
Yes, in a falsetto, although it?s more Curtis Mayfield (slightly too
obviously in 'Wake Up') than Barry Gibb. It suits him far more than the
Dylan affectations of 'Us And Us Only'. When he?s not singing in falsetto -
as is the case for over half the album - he1s actually in the best form of
his career. This is Tim Burgess finally, really singing from the heart,
unselfconsciously and true. It's great.
So let's recap on how 'Wonderland' updates The Charlatans' story: An equally
light and heavy party record. A sunny new atmosphere. Good singing, good
sounds. Hmm. Seems their excellent tale still has some way to travel.
To read all our reviews first - days before they appear online - check out NME magazine, on sale every Wednesday