Cometh the hour, cometh the hype man. If we’ve learnt anything from the pandemic’s bizarre concoction of real-life heroics and Netflix action-fantasy binges, it’s that dark times bring out the very best of men: Marcus Rashford, Captain Tom, Tim Burgess.
If The Charlatans frontman had worked out a way to raise charity funds by tweeting enthusiastically about other people’s records all lockdown, he’d be Sir Tim by now; over five hundred Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties in he’s still going strong, making this post-album EP of new songs and alternative versions of tracks from The Charlatans and his recent solo album ‘I Love The New Sky’ feel like a victory lap for COVID’s most selfless frontline spirit-raiser.
He’s taking this well-earned half hour off from comforting familiarity, though. The lead track is amongst the most intriguing and exploratory tracks Burgess has ever released, opening with a manic psych-folk chant of the title while monkish backing vocals evoke ominous ceremonies in mythical Snowdonian glades, and then drifting away on gentle wafts of oceanic guitar. By the time the evil MGMT-style synths, blood sacrifice drums and meat cleaver noise riffs descend in the final minute, the whole thing is starting to resemble early ‘90s shoegaze if it had smoked a lot less dope and got hooked instead on binloads of home-brewed methamphetamine.
So far, so mind-bending, and he hasn’t started mutating the classics yet. A gorgeous hay wain of a love song called ‘Yours. To Be’ provides romantic relief for three idyllic minutes, recalling Burgess’s collaborations with Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner, and then Tim sets about applying the avant-garde mentality of his O Genesis record label to his own most famous song. Recorded during a live session for Paste magazine in March, this version of 1990’s ‘The Only One I Know’ is transformed into a hallucinogenic psych miasma, laced with discordant piano, android chaffinch tweets and a chorus seemingly sung by a couple of passing 23rd century hicks.
The remaining three session tracks are culled from ‘I Love The New Sky’ and receive rather less outré treatment. The xylophone twinkles, squelching retro synths and easy listening “ba-ba-ba” backing vocals of ‘The Mall’ make it sound like Burgess is cutting the ribbon on a shopping paradise attached to the Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino; ‘Laurie’ sees him imagine an alternate universe in which winsome mid-‘80s Madness went electroclash (brilliantly). ‘Undertow’, meanwhile, drifts in on drowsy, luxuriant Lennon piano, then sun-lounges its way to a wonderfully narcotic torch song hookline.
It all suggests that, even if his listening parties reach a natural conclusion post-COVID, Burgess isn’t going back to any sort of old normal.
Release date: 27 November
Release label: Bella Union