Graded on a Curve:
The Charlatans,
Different Days

As a persevering component of the Madchester scene, The Charlatans (who still often get tagged as The Charlatans UK) have amassed a considerable discography since debuting back in 1990; with the release of Different Days, the studio LPs in their oeuvre now total a baker’s dozen. Loaded with guests including New Order’s Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert, Johnny Marr and Paul Weller, the album avoids hubbub, instead connecting like another fresh, engaging, and relevant release from the band. It’s out now on vinyl, compact disc, and digital through BMG.

The Charlatans first album Some Friendly, released in the autumn of 1990 by Beggars Banquet side label Situation Two, is an exemplary slice of Madchester, a sound most commonly associated with Happy Mondays (whose 1989 disc Madchester Rave On brought the genre a handle) and The Stone Roses but extending to Inspiral Carpets, James, Northside, Candy Flip, and a smattering of others.

In a nutshell, Madchester was a hybrid movement infusing ’60s ambiance (a whole lot of organs) with the loping rhythms inspired by the club/ rave happenings of the moment, but unlike the roughly contemporaneous stylistic emergence of shoegaze, the Madchester experience hasn’t aged especially well. There are exceptions of course, notably The Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets, and the subject of this review, as The Charlatans’ lack of breakup has allowed them to organically develop their sound beyond those trippy grooves of yore.

The gradually unfolding pop nugget “Hey Sunrise” is a case in point; it opens Different Days with an unraveling techno gauze that’s quickly followed by Tim Burgess’ acoustic strum and vocals. Strengthened by deft piano counterpoint and solidified further with the entrance of the full ensemble, it’s pop of a decidedly mature stripe.

Yes, ample ’60s organ is in evidence, but it’s accompanied with a brief ’70s-ish advanced-pop studio flourish that underlines the band’s growth. But of course, there are elements unifying with the past, foremost the distinctive sound of Burgess’ voice. His singing helps to elevate “Solutions,” joining with the upbeat pop-rock of bassist Martin Blunt (alongside Burgess, a member since ’89), guitarist Mark Collins (’91), and Tony Rogers (’97).

Founding drummer Jon Brookes sadly died of brain cancer in 2013; The Charlatans’ subsequent disc Modern Nature utilized guest drummers including Stephen Morris and Peter Salisbury from The Verve, both of whom return for Different Days. The highly danceable title track here absolutely benefits from Morris’ presence, and while it harkens back to the band’s roots a bit, the carryover into the brief “Future Tense,” which features a spoken passage from Scottish novelist Ian Rankin and the guitar of Johnny Marr, once again illuminates change over time.

It butts up against “Plastic Machinery,” which finds Marr sticking around and adding heft to the album’s most anthemic rocker, the cut sandwiched between Rankin’s spot and “The Forgotten One,” a second spoken piece courtesy of Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner (who contributed to Burgess’ 2012 solo disc Oh No I Love You). Folks only familiar with The Charlatans’ Situation Two/ Beggars period might be thinking they’ve gravitated too far from their origins, but the vibrant (and Marr enhanced) mover “Not Forgotten” should put those doubts to rest.

Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe also lends a hand, his input underscoring the connectiveness of the late 20th century neo-’60s crowd, this particular bond, like Wagner’s prevailing over an ocean. Side two’s opener “There Will Be Chances” continues to explore the combo of catchiness and rhythm, though it and “Over Again” radiate the sort of chipper mood (a recurring Madchester thing) that can get dangerously close to the neighborhood of Jesus Jones.

In “Over Again”’s favor is the keyboard of Gillian Gilbert; together with Morris she brings the tune an appealing techno-pop undercurrent. By contrast, the spirited melodicism of “The Same House” is dominated by the vocals of Burgess, Collins, and Rogers, and as it progresses a touch of Squeeze enters the picture. It succeeds, but the more concentrated guitar-focused propulsion of “Let’s Go Together” is a stronger example of The Charlatans’ continued effectiveness.

The only complaint with the gentle cascading psych of “The Setting Sun” is that it’s too damn short, though it capably sets up the gliding pop of “Spinning Out,” Different Days’ closer capped with the soulful presence of Paul Weller. As noted above, the group avoid using these numerous studio drop-ins as a crutch, and at no point does it feel like a traversal through the motions. This isn’t The Charlatans best LP, but at this point in their career it easily transcends reasonable expectations.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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