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Friday, August 4, 2017

The Charlatans: You Cross My Path


1) Oh! Vanity; 2) Bad Days; 3) Mis-Takes; 4) The Misbegotten; 5) A Day For Letting Go; 6) You Cross My Path; 7) Missing Beats; 8) My Name Is Despair; 9) Bird; 10) This Is The End; 11*) Blank Heart, Blank Mind; 12*) Set Me Free.

It is unfair to say that by the mid-2000s, the world did not need The Charlatans any more: even Simpatico, despite the fairly obvious dip in quality, still hit No. 10 on the British charts, indica­ting that the band had become fairly institutionalized, a «second-rate legend» that could, from now on, never worry about starving as long as they periodically reminded the world of their exis­tence. From that point of view, their next move towards the world was actually quite bold: You Cross My Path, their tenth studio LP, was made freely available as a digital download for a few months, before getting a physical CD release. Of course, nasty tongues said this was merely to draw some much-needed public attention to their wrinkled asses, but hey, at least it was a safer and nobler trick than drowning one of the band's members in a swimming pool or something. The album did only reach No. 39 on the charts as a result, though.

And this time, things were back to positively normal. No more fiddling around with reggae or other musical genres that The Charlatans felt uncomfortable with — You Cross My Path is just a through-and-through modern pop record, nothing less, nothing more. Distorted power-pop guitars, classic keyboards, straightforward 4/4 beats, disillusioned love lyrics, the works. The whole thing is even more simple and streamlined than Up At The Lake, since the band tends to stay away from funkiness this time around, and makes not the slightest pretense of appealing to contemporary dance crowds: you can dance to most of these tunes, but essentially this is an album to be enjoyed alone in the dark. Or, perhaps, not enjoyed, but merely taken into considera­tion, because the songs are... guess what... not very interesting.

Once again, the listener's general feel towards the record will most likely be determined by the feel towards the opening track. ʽOh! Vanityʼ tells what looks to be a personal message (using a posh-poseur interface to deal with life's troubles? something like that) to a steady beat, a modestly catchy (but very quiet) organ riff, and through Tim Burgess' usual colorless vocals. Again, this is a good song that I wish I could get more excited about, but all the standard blocks apply. Not even the weird talkbox-like keyboard solo can properly save the day: there is not a single ingre­dient here that gets the blood boiling, and Tim's singing nearly puts me to sleep.

The worst thing about it all, perhaps, is that with each passing year The Charlatans find themselves tighter and tighter in the grip of depression, and a mediocre depressing band goes far harsher on one's feelings than a mediocre cheerful one. Titles like ʽMissing Beats (Of A Genera­tion)ʼ are pretty self-explanatory, but even if Tim Burgess' mopey mix of nostalgia and disillu­sionment is technically more realistic and closer to the ground than, say, Robert Smith's end-of-the-world apocalyptic rantings, how could I prefer the former over the latter when the form in which this mix is presented is so sterile? The guitar churns out a monotonously quiet syncopated rhythm, the organ whines out the same repetitive chords, the expressionless chorus winds on and on and on, and the entire band, even if it may have written a potentially promising song, just sounds terminally bored doing it.

On the whole, the record is far more consistent than its predecessor, simply because it makes no stupid suicidal risks, but it does not have even one song of the ʽBlackened Blue Eyesʼ caliber. The only potential standout is ʽMy Name Is Despairʼ, when the band slows down, puts tons of echo on the drums and vocals, throws in a bunch of heavy piano chords, and makes a sort of tribute to Joy Division (the vocals, in particular, briefly remind me of ʽI Remember Nothingʼ). Maybe if the organ weren't so inconveniently happy-sounding, and if the vocalist were closer to Ian Curtis or Jim Morrison, it would have worked. As it is, it is only on the verge of working, lacking that special something which separates professional craft from great art.

And it is true, I cannot deny the professional craft: with decades of experience behind them and a solid sense of taste that had only very rarely let them down, The Charlatans have reached a stage here where they would be capable of effortlessly making «non-bad» records for several more decades to come. Problem is, no matter how much you listen to such records, there is very little chance that any subtle charming nuances — the only ones that make B-grade art worth returning to — are going to jump out at you and make you re-evaluate the whole thing.

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