‘Modern Nature’ arrives at the end of what has been a difficult year for The Charlatans. The loss of their drummer Jon Brookes to brain cancer presented the band with a difficult fork in the road. The path they elected to take was to bring in a trio of different musicians to take the stool left by Brookes, each of whom play on various tracks on the album: Stephen Morris from New Order, Gabriel Gurnsey from Factory Floor and Pete Salisbury from The Verve.
Running through what claims, in its title at least, to be highly contemporary and current, much of this album seems to hark back to the 1970s – the lengthy ‘Let The Good Times Be Never Ending’ and relaxed ‘In The Tall Grass’ have distinct disco qualities in their metronomic beats, jazzy organ riffs and brass stabs. Elsewhere, the addition of dense production, full orchestrations from Sean O’Hagan and stirring gospel harmonies root these songs in an era that only now seems to be appreciated for what it produced. Blissful textures and gauzy vocals dominate ‘Lot To Say’, harking back to the band’s Madchester roots, but infusing the sound with a soulful, Motown-ish timeless vibe.
The one track that makes concessions to modernity is the downbeat ‘Talking In Tones’, which starts as a soundworld of glitch, electronica-by-numbers percussion loops before stealing a left turn into something more robust, less ephemeral and more poignantly emotional. At the other end of the spectrum, ‘Come Home Baby’ and ‘So Oh’ (video, below) have simple, instant, catchy pop qualities – the stuff of sweaty, mid-1990s indie club legend.
For all the challenging conditions with which it arrived, ‘Modern Nature’ is a significant step forward for a band dogged by being seen merely as Britpop survivors that have never really moved on. This is evidence that they truly, distinctively have.
Words: Mat Smith
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