The Charlatans are an ageing Indie Holy Cow, the kind of band whose back catalogue xfm love to (very) selectively mine when they’re not heavily rotating the execrable Kasabian and the fading Kings of Leon.
There are legions of fans, they’ve been around for over 25 years, and they have produced some decent tunes like ‘Just When You’re Thinking Things Over’ and ‘Forever’. The fact that they have kept going through bereavements says much about their character and them as a unit, but there’s more than a faint whiff of patronising sympathy in some of the reviews that this frankly mediocre album has received.
Much gets made of The Charlatans’ varying their sound over the years and ‘Modern Nature’ is an album that clearly wears influences on its sleeves. The problem is that this album takes its core feel from heartless, style-over-substance 70s soul and the worst bits of disco.
‘Modern Nature’ is the sonic equivalent of pleather, nylon, polyester and viscose. It’s clearly the work of professional musicians: many things are in their right places, but there’s so little drama or contrast. There’s something to be said for understatement, at the right moment, but a little effort or excitability wouldn’t go amiss. And at the centre of it all there’s Tim Burgess’ voice, limitations all on display. Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s truth, but this is an instrument without the expressiveness, power or versatility to turn any of these songs into more than smooth background noise.
Highlights appear in the form of single ‘Come Home Baby’ where the band at least stir themselves to deliver a proper chorus, and mid-record ‘Emilie’. Amongst the stylishly vacant surrounds Burgess at last finds some inspiration over prettily spiralling guitar lines. Album closer ‘Lots to Say’ almost makes the grade with woozy organ, trilling guitar and a vocal whose dreaminess finally augments the mood only for a characterless synth wash to smother the lot.
Also standing out from the pack, but in the bad way, are: ‘I Need You To Know’ a bizarre, nihilistic and brutal slam-on-the-brakes-style change of pace and direction; the sickly sweet ‘Keep Enough’ whose irritating strings would like to think they’re sultry when really they’re shit; and ‘So Oh’ which, aside from the awful title, leaves me feeling so ‘so what ?’ with its lazy, bored lyrics and tune. Elsewhere, ‘Modern Nature’ is just ‘so-so’.
This is one of those bands whose finest record is destined to be their ‘Best Of…’, bought absentmindedly in the sales.