CD Review of Simpatico by The Charlatans UK

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starstarstarstarno star Label: Sanctuary Records
Released: 2006
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God bless Sanctuary Records for giving fondly-remembered musical artists the opportunity to continue putting out records, even when their greatest chart successes are likely behind them. They’ve done it for Ric Ocasek, they’ve done it for Alison Moyet, and, dammit, they’re doing it for the Charlatans UK. Thing is, Simpatico – the first new album from the band to see release in the States since 2001’s underwhelming Wonderland – may well be the best thing they’ve produced since 1994’s Up To Our Hips, so you’d like to think they might actually pull a Morrissey (another Sanctuary artist) and end up with the biggest album of their career.

Don’t laugh, you bastard. It could happen.

After all, when they emerged as part of 1990’s crowded field of British imports (it was the year of the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays, remember), the Charlatans’ profile was pretty damned high... and, even now, the organ riff from “The Only One I Know” – the single from their debut album, Some Friendly – can fill the dance floor in your cooler clubs. If they suffered a sophomore slump with Between 10th and 11th (and they did), then they rebounded handsomely with the aforementioned Up To Our Hips, with its brilliant single, “Can’t Get Out Of Bed.” Unfortunately, after that, they totally and utterly fell off the commercial radar in the States, and, despite having released several solid albums since (Tellin’ Stories is particularly good), they’ve hardly sold a sausage in the US over the last decade.

Since their last album, however, the band’s frontman, Tim Burgess, produced his first solo album – I Believe, produced by Linus of Hollywood – and the freshness that Burgess brought to the table for that disc has resulted in a similar sparkle here. Instead of sticking with the Stonesy swagger mixed with dance beats that’s been the group’s stock sound for so many years, the Charlatans UK spend the majority of Simpatico venturing into Madness territory, i.e. mixing some reggae with their pop stylings. Lest they scare off the longtime fans, though, the proceedings begin with a pair of tracks which hark back to the original sound: “Blackened Blue Eyes” (unsurprisingly selected as the album’s first single) and the funky “NYC (“No Need to Stop),” which, swear to God, briefly brings to mind “Disco Duck.” From there, however, “For Your Entertainment” begins the band’s venture into the sounds of ska. “City of the Dead” sounds like Suggs and company teaming with Men at Work, blending white-boy reggae with a delicate piano line (piano features heavily on “Muddy Ground” as well), and the Jamaican groove continues on “The Architect.”

No, Simpatico isn’t going to make anyone forget “The Only One I Know,” but it does show that the Charlatans UK aren’t stuck in a creative rut. The band remains unafraid to experiment outside the genres where they’ve found the most success and, as a result, they may yet have a few good years left in them on the British charts... but, okay, I admit it, it’s a long shot at best that this will change their fortunes here in the States; still, at least it can be said that it’s not for lack of solid material.

~Will Harris