Stubborn longevity in the music business is usually a calculated asset transfer from creativity to bank balance, as U2 and the Stones would have to confess. But there’s no begrudging one British band to have hit the quarter-century mark, albeit on a less alienating scale. The Charlatans haven’t come through unscathed, of course, a double tragedy has seen to that, but their consistency and evolution has scored them 11 Top 40 albums since emerging in the baggy boom years. Their 12th, Modern Nature, is the first since the death of drummer Jon Brookes in 2013, and as statements of resilience go, it’s stirring stuff.
Although its bass-led euphonic grooves and swirling keys are unmistakably Charlatans, Modern Nature is differentiated by its positive disposition and elements of Philly-style soul. There are prominent string parts, pumping horns and even a choral backing to Tim Burgess’ good vibrations. The mood is set on opener, ‘Talking In Tones’, when Burgess splices the chilled metronomics with the melodic strain, “I Feel Strengthened By Your Presence”. Sometimes sounding like a man drafting a CBT manual, Burgess, now fired by sobriety and meditation, knows the value of staying active and involved: he’s omnipresent on social media, helms the O Genesis record label and even retails coffee. And on the remarkably glossy ‘Let The Good Times Be Never-Ending’ – all slick glitter-ball funk, clipped keys, riffing horns and the aura of musicians enjoying themselves – you can’t help but picture him delivering such disco-soprano statements as “I Get The Love That Your Sending” while clad in a pristine Saturday Night Fever suit. The other unfettered slice of beaming soul, ‘Come Home Baby’, is steered away from R&B-lite by the sheer exuberance of its gospelly chorus. Indeed, Modern Nature has its share of indelible chorus hooks: check the driving indie rush, ‘Lean In’, and the classy ‘Emilie’, the LP’s pop pinnacle, where a rich and rapid progression is toned by Mark Collins’ bluesy guitar picking.
The sole deviation from all the buoyancy is ‘I Need You To Know’, a stormy meld of something altogether darker, while ‘In The Tall Grass’ shares the sparse introspection of 1999’s ‘Us And Us Only’, yet still some jazzy electric piano from Tony Rogers raises a smile. Meanwhile, underpinning the sunny lollop of single ‘So Oh’ is a take on the classic ‘Only One I Know’ bassline that Martin Blunt has never quite put to bed. It’s a Charlatans signature, helping to ground a band who gradually expand their musical motifs rather than chase fads. They’ve a knack for progressing through misfortune, too, and having now honed their finest collection since 1996’s Telling Stories, The Charlatans can celebrate their survival instincts.
Live: Rough Trade East – January 27th (Free – 12.45pm)
Roundhouse – March 16th (Sold Out)