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The Charlatans
Who We Touch
The End Records
www.charlatans.com


The very first thing that hits you when you pop in the new CD by The Charlatans is the noise. To say that the sheer, powerful noise of the first track is a bit of a shock is an understatement; the suddenness and brashness of the entire thing is so very un-Charlatans that it is mind blowing. A quick look at the liner notes to find the reason quickly reveals that the amazing and unpredictable Youth was at the helm for this record, which goes a long way towards explaining this more aggressive rock sound. Upon repeated listenings, this shock is somewhat mellowed by the knowledge that there is an entire album of great material here that makes the first ten seconds seem more and more like a simple shock tactic to wake the long-time listener up and remind them to pay attention.

After those initial moments of shock, "Love Is Ending" turns out to be a really melodic, if aggressive, rock song. While it seems Burgess and Co. are channeling younger bands - think The Strokes, perhaps - it doesn't take long for the trademark Charlatans melodies and harmonies to rear their beautiful heads. "My Foolish Pride" is filled with organs and twangy guitars, recalling 1960's Tamla sounds more than ever before, the vocals soaring majestically aloft on plucked strings and frantic tambourines. If the album ended here, it would have been well worth the price of admission. There are a few softer songs on Who We Touch, songs that really bring out the depth of the band's songwriting and musical ability. "Your Pure Soul" is an acoustic guitar-driven beauty, filled with trademark Hammond sounds and excellent melodies. But the album really gets moving on tracks like heavy, deliberate "Smash The System" and the groovy, weirdly psychedelic "Intimacy". The album explodes on "Sincerity"; the bass guitar gets loud, gritty and in your face, driving the song into high gear, while Burgess' voice carries the melody and background vocals are yelled out of the speakers amidst synthesizers and blistering guitars. This track is definitely new ground for The Charlatans, but it feels like an old friend just got a little bit louder rather than changing. "Trust In Desire" hits hard, but in a very soft, beautiful way. The vocals and melodies are very familiar, recalling some of the finest balladry of the 1980's, while the music is pure old-school Charlatans. Crisp drumming, heavy organ, spacious and wonderful guitar, and throbbing bass tie it all together into one of the finest Charlatans songs of all time. "Oh" seems an aural tribute to later-era John Lennon songs, with its delicate beauty and space, while "When I Wonder" contains a bit of experimental sounds and a driving rhythm that ties things together nicely. The record ends with a thirteen-minute odyssey of sound that is most definitely not classic Charlatans. Here, more than at any other time since those opening ten seconds, is the guiding, driving hand of Youth felt. "You Can Swim" begins languidly enough, with backwards reverb trails and softly-picked arpeggios that build a liquid sound and lead nicely into Burgess' vocals that elicit a somewhat melancholy state of mind… before it all builds to an orchestral crescendo of epic Radiohead-ian proportions and then slowly fades back down to silence… and then things turns strange. After a minute or so of silence, we are suddenly confronted with slow, dark, surf rock and the voice of a deranged professor giving a sermon on time and life and all kinds of things.
.
Maybe we shouldn't think of Who We Touch as a brand new album, but perhaps more as You Cross My Path part 2… unlike previous records there are no huge musical leaps, no incorporation of new sounds, new genres. This seems a bit strange for a band that has historically always changed their sound fairly significantly from one album to another. I do not believe the band has found a rut like some of their contemporaries. I believe Who We Touch is simply a further exploration of the great thing they have going on currently, and creatively there was still some of this particular sound that needed to be mined out of the Manchester hills.

Furthermore, I highly recommend the 2-disc set. The bonus disc features alternate takes and demos of the songs, as well as a couple of studio outtakes that might be the closest thing we get to B-sides if the last record is any indication. These alternate takes really shed some light not only on the creative process of the Charlatans, but on how songs can change from the demo stage to the fully realized recorded output. Of course, we can easily lay blame for a lot of that with Youth… he's got a track record, you know.

-Embo Blake

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