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Friday, August 25, 2017

The Charlatans: Different Days

THE CHARLATANS: DIFFERENT DAYS (2017)

1) Hey Sunrise; 2) Solutions; 3) Different Days; 4) Future Tense; 5) Plastic Machinery; 6) The Forgotten One; 7) Not Forgotten; 8) There Will Be Chances; 9) Over Again; 10) The Same House; 11) Let's Go Together; 12) The Setting Sun; 13) Spinning Out.

In this chapter of their life story, The Charlatans go on to discover the meaning of life. Well, maybe not quite, but they sure sound like they had some serious revelations about the place they occupy in this universe of ours, and they want to share this experience with us. On their previous couple of albums, they had exchanged the liveliness and friendly aggression of their youth for somber soberness; with Different Days, they take another step forward and re-introduce them­selves as That One So Much Older And Wiser Band, one that might be willing to share a life philosophy with their listeners, inviting them to slow down, sit down, cool down, and perhaps even bow down to the words and the sounds of the wise.

Sure enough, there's no harm in hearing a band with an almost 30-year long career (has it really been that long now?) give a couple of life lessons, even if this surmises a partial transformation into Pink Floyd, a band that has, up to now, never been among The Charlatans' primary influen­ces. But given everything that we know about The Charlatans, chances of their producing some sort of masterpiece, «finding themselves» after all those years of (way too frequently fruitless) searching, are slim — and already the first couple of tracks are quite telling. As their main sonic base, they have chosen a slow, trip-hoppy rhythmic pattern, largely dependent on keyboards and acoustic guitars; at the same time, Tim Burgess is now singing in a weary, colorless, «serious» manner that completely neutralizes his vocals (I think that most of the time they are also multi-tracked and/or compressed, to the effect of losing even the few tiny droplets of personality that they ever possessed).

The results are predictably dull. ʽHey Sunriseʼ begins like a song that is supposed to go some­where: with its fussy, repetitive acoustic rhythm track and half-whispered vocals, you keep waiting for some development, preferably a build-up to a mighty chorus or something, yet you get nothing — apparently, that quiet chug and lulling whisper are considered to be the main attrac­tion of the song, and the only development is a bedrock of cheap synths, gradually revealed over four minutes. Considering that the band often likes to place its best material at the beginning of the album, ʽHey Sunriseʼ is a fairly gloomy indication of what's to come.

For extra seriousness' sake, the songs are joined to each other via occasional sound links — deep-sounding poetic lines about the past, the present, and the future, or, in one case, a female Japanese voiceover because, you know, where would we be without female Japanese voiceovers in 2017? Frankly, I have no interest in checking out who is participating in these sound links and why, because the songs that they link together consistently suck. Track after track, it's the same gray atmosphere of trip-hop rhythms, acoustic guitars, boring keyboards and depersonalized vocals, and the best I can say is that some of the songs, like the title track, have catchy choruses. But what good are catchy choruses if the band that plays them sounds like a bunch of robots?

I almost get to like ʽNot Forgottenʼ, because it has a tiny trace of the self-righteous anger that, in the past, used to drag The Charlatans out of the ditch when everything else failed. But even that one, once it gets to the chorus, is not able to get past one angry line and a bunch of supportive woo-woos — it's like they want to get angry, but are completely stuck in MOR limbo. In despe­ration, they end up falling back on pop clichés of the 1980s — ʽThe Same Houseʼ, with its cloying synthesizer loops and android chorus mantras ("we can live in the same house, we can all wear matching shoes!") sounds like a generic happy-ironic pop hit from one of those mid-1980s bands whose names I can never remember, but since it has neither the freshness nor the humor of any of those hits (things that could artistically save at least some of them), I can only qualify it as a nostalgic embarrassment.

Bottomline: if these guys have any intention to be really taken seriously, they have to start popping some serious youth pills, or at least get their Prozac prescriptions in order, because grim, gray, moody, melancholic Charlatans pass way below the radar, much lower than bright, lively, sarcastic, funky Charlatans. Note that I have not even begun talking about the lyrics — because, honestly, when the music is so dull, there is not the least incentive to care about the words, no matter which ʽsolutionsʼ they are advertising for, or whether ʽthere will be chancesʼ of their admonitions and revelations making solid sense. Thumbs down again.

3 comments:

  1. Now that it's over (for two years at least, I hope), I can't help but feel sorry for the time you wasted reviewing Charlatans after 'Wonderland'. Bland, self pitiful, lifeless stuff over and over again.

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  3. I've become addicted to your reviews and I'd love to read your thoughts about the Stranglers first five albums, whenever you have the time.

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