The Charlatans have been described as survivors since a remarkably early stage, the adjective applied in relation to both their bounce back after a flop second album and also their continued success in the wake of the sad death of original keyboardist Rob Collins.
Thirteen years on from that, however, and The Charlatans would be survivors in any case, on the simpler grounds of having been together a very long time. Certainly there’s a note of defying the odds to the release of what is, impressively, the band’s 11th album. Now very much middle-aged men, Tim Burgess and co can scarcely hope to win much in the way of fresh blood in a musical landscape so utterly different from that of their heyday, something the limp number 39 chart placing of 2008’s You Cross My Path confirmed. One assumes that the band is more a question of love than money at this stage; gratifyingly, that’s an impression borne out by Who We Touch, an album clearly put together with a huge amount of care. That it sounds a little out of date in 2010 is by the by: they’re a group from a different era who feel no pressure to pretend otherwise.
That accepted, they’re certainly not rehashing former glories – those expecting pummelling Hammonds and anthemic Lancashire hollering have come to the wrong place. The first surprise comes right at the start, as Love Is Ending erupts in a blank roar of noise. It’s a red herring, though, and soon enough a lithe guitar line cuts in and the whole thing suddenly sounds like some particularly muscular leftover from the C86 era. It’s melodic, energetic, humble and hummable, with Burgess’s vocals soft and impassioned.
Elsewhere, My Foolish Pride is a sweet, pastoral-bordering-on twee piano ballad. Your Pure Soul offers a lovely piece of woozy introspection, while Intimacy and Sincerity offer a pleasing electronic heart to the record, the former spooky and low-key, the latter a very game stab at Krautrock. These are warm, appealing tunes with no false bluster or crass anthemism, light years ahead of the bombastic drivel certain peers have offered up this year. The Charlatans are old fashioned, maybe even a little antiquated. But are they past it as songwriters? No way.
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Charlatans The - Who We Touch (Lmt.Ed. 2Cd Gatefold) - cod:2444