Following on from a tough few years after the sad passing of their drummer Jon Brookes, The Charlatans have been toiling away doing admirable charity work as well as studio time. Their 13th studio album – Different Days, sees iconic musicians Peter Salisbury (formerly of The Verve), Stephen Morris (of New Order) and Donald Johnson (A Certain Ratio) stepping into Brookes’ shoes.
Tim Burgess’ signature downtrodden vocal style welcomes listeners to the record with opener Hey Sunrise, a melancholy check-in that feels like a heart-to-heart with someone no longer here. Whilst the track opens on a sad note, as it progresses Burgess reassuringly repeats “it’s beginning to look like it’s light” hinting there is a light at the end of the grief-stricken tunnel. The piano-led Solutions harks back to the mid-naughties direction that brought The Charlatans to younger generations. There are subtle hooks scattered throughout this track and highlight that even for a band made up of middle-aged men, The Charlatans are far from stuffy and boring.
The eponymous track opens with twinkly Willy Wonka-esque melody. Grief and the overcoming thereof seems to be the theme most prevalent throughout this record. It blends beautifully into Future Tense, which features an opening spoken word sequence from none other than crime novelist Ian Rankin. Just as it verges in becoming too much style over substance, The Charlatans plug in their guitars and guide us into Plastic Machinery, a real highlight thus far. Burgess encourages to not “become part of the plastic machinery” creating a critique of modern society and the pitfalls of 21st Century technology.
Many tracks are a way of respecting their dearly departed members, whilst still pushing the band forward sonically. The blend of sadness mixed with upbeat music highlights the importance of making progress but acknowledging those who have helped to get them there.
The spoken word breaks are artistically put together, but in the context of a record based around guitars they stand out for unfortunately the wrong reasons. Thankfully they do not eat into many of the tracks themselves. Titles such as Not Forgotten, Let’s Go Together and There Will Be Chances carry on the overarching thematics of the album. The latter is heavily indebted to fellow Mancunians – The Stone Roses. It’s one of the more minimal cuts, but the subtle guitar melody wraps around Burgess’ voice in expert fashion.
The Charlatans have gone a little jazzy on closer Spinning Out. Lyrically, there is talk of doubts and questions about how to best move forward. Change is a hard beast to tame, but for a song about losing control this is a significantly well-measured effort that brings calm amongst the chaos.
Different Days was never going to be an easy record for The Charlatans to make, but they have embraced their unfortunate situation to create something beautifully respectful to their past, present and future. Not everything needs to be exciting and cutting edge to garner respect, and Different Days is the perfect parting gift to usher in this new era for the now iconic band.