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
it all builds to an orchestral crescendo of epic Radiohead-ian
proportions and then slowly fades back down to silence
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
got a track record, you know.
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