Album review: Modern Nature – The Charlatans

Signature sounds and the frontman Tim Burgess’s unmistakable wistful drawl are all present and correct, but there’s a maturity here that can only come from 25 solid years of writing music and releasing records.

Shuffling indie-dance beats and spacey guitars can all be heard in The Charlatans' 12th album Modern Nature. (Courtesy: The Charlatans)
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Modern Nature

The Charlatans

(BMG)

Three Stars

The Charlatans have had their share of misfortune in the 25 years since their 1990 debut single, Indian Rope.

Keyboardist Rob Collins died in a car crash in 1996, midway through the recording of their fifth album Tellin' Stories, and drummer Jon Brookes died in 2013 from a brain tumour, which had been diagnosed following a collapse on stage during a 2010 gig in Philadelphia.

The band were also unfortunate, in a sense, to break through at a time when their Manchester (technically Northwich in the city’s Cheshire commuter belt, but that’s splitting hairs) hometown was in the global spotlight at the height of the Madchester era.

While doubtless some extra attention came their way as a result, they were also condemned to be seen as the poor relations to the likes of The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays, who spearheaded the scene.

Although the band have never attracted quite the same level of adoration as those two contemporaries, they’ve definitely outperformed both in terms of longevity and consistency.

While their peers have largely traded off past glories for the 20 years or so since releasing their last great records, Modern Nature is The Charlatans' 12th album. Their sound has progressed over the years to a more commercial offering, and it is worth noting that their greatest chart success came with 1997's Tellin' Stories (and attendant singles North Country Boy and How High), long after the Madchester heyday.

This latest opus continues that development. Signature sounds such as the shuffling indie-dance beats (supplied following Brookes’s death by stand-ins, including Peter Salisbury of The Verve and New Order’s Stephen Morris), spacey guitars and the frontman Tim Burgess’s unmistakable wistful drawl are all present and correct, but there’s a maturity here that can only come from 25 solid years of writing music and releasing records.

At its dreamiest points, such as Lot to Say, the album recalls the best of early 90s shoegazing, with its Hammond swirls and dreamy vocals, whereas at its most commercial, such as Lean In, it could happily sit alongside stadium-filling rockers such as Oasis or U2.

The standout track for me is the introspective I Need You to Know, with its dramatic strings, minor-chord guitars and muffled drum shuffle.

There's nothing so groundbreaking here that it'll be troubling Kanye West at next year's Grammys, but there's plenty to justify the album debuting at No 7 on the UK album charts – the band's highest placing since 2001's Wonderland.

cnewbould@thenational.ae