Tim Burgess – ‘I Love The New Sky’ review: cult-pop that should break the ‘trending’ bar in its own right

The Charlatans frontman's fifth solo record is an autobiographical beaut that skips along to gorgeous melodies even as it charts heartbreak

As is customary, a toast for the host. The Charlatans’ singer and lockdown legend Tim Burgess has been so busy celebrating other people’s records, as the virtual needle dropper and party starter of his nightly Twitter listening parties, that there’s a danger of his own new album release – his fifth solo record – being swamped beneath the tsunami of nostalgia he’s created.

Having said that – considering the introspection he’s crammed into these 54 inspired autobiographical minutes; the heartbreaks and upheavals, the insecurities and behind-the-scenes struggles – it might well be a blessed relief to spend every night of lockdown lost in other bands’ stories of studio mishaps in 1996.

Burgess’ journey from LA party king through divorce, relocation, his years as the experimental Svengali of north London’s warehouse scene and finally to settled family life in Norfolk: it’s all touched on here, albeit beneath layers of lyrical obfuscation and characteristically sunny vibes. ‘Empathy For The Devil’ reads like a marital row – “is that jealousy? What d’you want, a medal?” – even though it skips along sounding like Sufjan Stevens has joined ‘Too-Rye-Ay’-era Dexys, and cheekily nabs its intro from ‘Boys Don’t Cry’.

‘Sweet Old Sorry Me’ sees him recall extricating himself from the Hollywood drug “tribe” over golden age Sunset Strip strings and the kind of piano thumps that made Benny And The Jets fictional superstars. And although self-portrait ‘Timothy’ makes the unexpected confession “I can count all my friends on one hand / One of them lives in Japan”, the lyric arrives  during a jaunty psych-pop interlude that’ll have you checking for the paw prints of Super Furry Animals.

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Burgesss is no wallower. His darker reminiscences are tempered with optimism and musical catharsis and he couches his story in an array of the dreamiest sonic styles: plush alt-country, Beach Boys surf-psych, ambient electronic drones, space funk and multi-harmonied soft rock. Even when he’s bemoaning a 12-month bout of writer’s block on ‘Only Took A Year’, it sounds like he knocked it out in a four-minute harpsichord dream-pop reverie. “What’s your favourite Cure LP? I like ‘Pornography’,” he sings, sounding about as goth as Brian Wilson’s jacuzzi.

Most dominant amid this melting stylistic miasma is a kind of retro-futurist easy listening feel; neo-Bacharach, if you will. Tracks such as the pensive ‘Undertow’, ‘Lucky Creatures’ and consumerist rumination ‘The Mall’, for instance, sound like they’ve blasted off from the Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino on a mission to explore the Tuxedo Nebula. It all adds to a blissed-out attitude that peaks on the album’s melodic high-points ‘Sweetheart Mercury’ and ‘I Got This’, the former a gorgeous piece of electronic Mersey-pop and the latter a preview of what it might sound like if Tim ever double-booked a Flaming Lips listening party with Stereolab.

Unravelling fresh surprises with each listen, ‘I Love The New Sky’ is the sort of immersive cult-pop experience that should break the ‘trending’ column in its own right.

Details

Release date: May 22

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Record label: Bella Union

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