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The Charlatans
Modern Nature Julian Marszalek , February 12th, 2015 10:46

In the wake of drummer Jon Brookes' tragic and untimely death at the age of 44 from brain cancer, it is of course tempting to read between the lines contained within the grooves of Modern Nature, The Charlatans' 12th album, for any implicit or explicit comments from the band on their fallen comrade. Is it there when Tim Burgess sings, "I feel strengthened by your presence" on opener 'Talking In Tones', or should a song with a title like 'Let The Good Times Be Never Ending' be taken as a defiant stand in the face of such horrible circumstances?

This isn't the first time The Charlatans have dedicated an album to a departed member. 1997's Tellin' Stories was released after the death of keyboardist Rob Collins in car crash during the recording of the album and now, as then, The Charlatans find themselves regrouping and consolidating their skills both as musicians and as a tight personal unit. In doing so, the band have delivered a wonderfully cohesive set of songs, and in the process have ensured that Modern Nature is their best release in many a moon.

Featuring guest turns on the drums by New Order's Stephen Morris, Pete Salisbury – late of The Verve – and Factory Floor's Gabe Gurnsey, Modern Nature is a contemplative album that dwells less in mood and feel in loss than it does a group rediscovering its love of making music and looking towards what the future might bring. There's a silky smooth and soulful sheen that runs through the album's songs and it's to The Charlatans' credit that they come out fighting not with all guns blazing but with guile, stealth and style. The magnificent 'Come Home Baby' will undoubtedly take its place among the group's finer moments while 'Emilie', thanks largely in part to Stephen Morris' delightfully skittering drums, and understated guitar work from Mark Collins, is a gentle yet glorious delight.

Fittingly, as The Charlatans' only original member, bassist Martin Blunt – either by accident or design – finds his low-end work taking centre stage for much of the album. Take the aforementioned 'Let The Good Times Be Never Ending', a track that, at the outset, finds The Charlatans in the more familiar and comforting terrain of wah-wah guitars, Tony Rogers' organ sweeps, and with Tim Burgess in fine voice, a sense of abandon that harks back to their debut album, Some Friendly. But this is to lull the listener into a false sense security. The extended coda finds Blunt locking into a driving groove that takes precedence over Rogers' nimble finger work to create one of the band's most transcendent moments.

Modern Nature is very much the welcome return of an old friend who's taken more knocks than is fair, and despite the battering and the bruising, this is the first and positive step into a bright new tomorrow. You'd do well to go with them.