Except for the Stone Roses, I always liked The Charlatans way more than all the other Madchester/Britpop/”laddish” bands of the ‘90s. Not sure why—maybe ‘cos I had a bit of a man-crush on frontman Tim Burgess. (What? He was cute!) I kinda lost interest in them during the noughties, in spite—or perhaps because—of the fact that they continued to release records, when most other bands of their generation had called it a day, and were it not for shock I received from seeing that Burgess had grown his hair out and dyed it blond, they might never have crossed my radar again.
But here we are. Modern Nature is the group’s first album in five years, and it appears almost two years after the death of drummer Jon Brookes. The Charlatans are no strangers to tragedy of this kind: in 1996 they lost keyboardist Rob Collins, but in the same way that the band returned triumphant, stronger, and more positive with 1997’s Tellin’ Stories—still their best album to date—MN sees the three surviving members pulling together once more to deliver one of the most well-received records of the year so far. Aided by former members of The Verve, New Order and Factory Floor, Messrs. Burgess, Collins (Mark, guitar) and Blunt (Martin, bass) have drawn upon an impressive array of influences for this, their twelfth album, with many of the tracks riding on an understated groove that takes in elements of soul, funk, and disco.
But is it any good? Well, yeah. It’s all right. Tuneful, well-produced, with some subtle touches, and—on the whole—fairly upbeat. Aside from the opening track, ‘Talking In Tones’, the band adopts a distinctly forward-facing stance, and there’s a real warmth to tracks like ‘Keep Enough’, which contains a guitar lick so gorgeous you’ll want to wrap your arms around it. ‘Let the Good Times Be Never Ending’, meanwhile, harks back to the glory days of old without ever threatening to descend into nostalgic rehashing. It’s probably the best track on the album, too.
As for the rest of it goes, like I said, yeah. It’s okay. Perhaps the best way to describe it as to say that Modern Nature is a nice record. It’s… you know. Nice. A little uninspired in places, but nice nonetheless. First single ‘So Oh’ is a case in point: it floats along, all floaty-like, and it’s quite catchy, but it’s never going to set the world alight. Lyrically, Burgess disappoints on one or two occasions (“I can’t wait, don’t hesitate/Let’s be together!”) while his vocal performance at times recalls that other great survivor of Britpop, Damon Albarn. Make of that what you will.
Modern Nature will surely delight the majority of long-time Charlatans fans, and bearing in mind the tumult that the band’s been through, it would be hard to look upon this as anything other than a well-deserved success. As far as newcomers to the band are concerned, it’s by no means a bad place to start, but for those looking for something with a bit more swagger I suggest checking out those mid- to late ‘90s albums—starting with Tellin’ Stories.