I’m going to be honest with you folks, I didn’t really know what to expect from a Charlatans album in 2017. The last time I was really paying attention to the band was way back in 2001, when Tim Burgess surprised us all with the gorgeous falsetto of ‘A Man Needs To Be Told’. But, despite my tardiness, The Charlatans have continued at a steady pace releasing a new album every two-to-three years, almost like clockwork, despite the loss of a second founding member in the form of drummer. Jon Brookes who lost his three year battle with brain cancer in 2013, a second major tragedy for the band who lost their original keyboard player, Rob Collins, to a car accident in 1996. But these indie-rock stalwarts are one of those ever-present, reliable features of the music scene. Nothing holds them back for long. They clearly love what they do and continue to please their loyal fan base with every new release, expertly walking the tightrope between innovation and expectation. Never stepping too far from the mould whilst still keeping things interesting by experimenting with new ideas, approaches and collaborations.
Different Days, the band’s 13th studio album, is one that’s jam-packed full of interesting collaborations. The core band; singer Tim Burgess, guitarist Mark Collins, bassist Martin Blunt and keyboard player Tony Rogers, together with producer Jim Spencer, opened the doors to their Cheshire studio to an impressive list of world renowned musicians to sprinkle magic across the thirteen tracks. To my mind The Charlatans sound has seldom been slight, preferring densely arranged songs with layers of sound that slowly peel open through repeated listening, giving their songs a longevity that’s rewarding for their devoted followers. This means that Different Days, although certainly enriched by featuring artists such as Johnny Marr, Paul Weller, and Anton Newcombe, is still unmistakably the sound of The Charlatans.
Lead single ‘Plastic Machinery’ is the first time my ears really prick up on the first listen through, coming in with a bang and sitting within the album like an isolated island, sandwiched between two spoken word interludes: ‘Future Tense’ featuring novelist Ian Rankin and ‘The Forgotten One’ featuring Kurt Wagner (from Lambchop, not the X-Man). Featuring some prominent guitar work from indie legend Johnny Marr, it jumps out as particularly vibrant and energetic in a set of songs which tend to hark back, at least rhythmically, to their roots in the baggy grooves of Madchester. It’s an exciting peak to an otherwise fairly muted album, but not in a bad way. The laidback grooves have arrived just in time for a British Summer Time that promises, if today is anything to go by, to actually deliver.
Towards the end of the collection ‘Over Again’ stands as a great example of this, layers of percussion and drum loops making up the meat of the track, with grooves coming from A Certain Ratio’s Donald Johnson. Paired with ‘The Same House’ it sees the band allowing retro dance sounds of old to rise to the fore again, showcasing their diversity. But this rhythmical flare is found throughout the album, the space left by Jon Brookes’ sad absence filled by a plethora of greats. His death created the necessity to find a drummer and that search possibly became the catalyst for this album’s free-wheeling collaborative spirit. The Verve’s Pete Salisbury was the first to answer the call, competing with New Order/Joy Division’s Stephen Morris, who, between their drumming and Morris’ programming, take care of the drums for most of the album.
The album finished beautifully on a Paul Weller co-write, ‘Spinning Out’, which features a jazzy sparseness, led by Weller’s electric piano, some of that lush falsetto Burgess occasionally treats us to, and feather-light drumming. It’s a melancholic and mellow closer to a slow-burn album that manages to take you to a lot of places without travelling particularly far. In fact, ‘Spinning Out’ harks back to the hazy vibe of album opener ‘Hey Sunrise’, bringing us full circle to sun-drenched nostalgia via an enjoyable detour through the baggy clubland of a more innocent time.