Album: The Charlatans

Wonderland, Universal
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The Independent Culture

Tim Burgess's move from Manchester to Los Angeles appears to have precipitated yet another transformation in The Charlatans. Whereas 1999's Us and Us Only captured the band at the peak of Burgess's Dylan infatuation, Wonderland finds his attention shifting to the Seventies psychedelic soul of Sly Stone, the Temptations and, in particular, Curtis Mayfield. There's only one overt Dylan lift here (from "I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine"), while Mayfield's fingerprints are all over tracks such as "Love Is the Key" (which borrows the bass pattern from "If There's Hell Below"), "Ballad of the Band" (which samples the string coda to "Right on for the Darkness") and "Right On", which features lines from the same source in an setting. Against such a welter of US soul influences, the only overtly European track is the instrumental "The Bell and the Butterfly", a feisty techno-stomp in the vein of DAF or Rammstein. Partly recorded in LA with the producer Danny Saber, the album boasts a shiny transatlantic finish akin to Saber's work with Black Grape, largely thanks to the subtle percussion of Jim Keltner and the former Grape drummer Ged Lynch. For his part, Tim Burgess is actually singing this time, rather than Manc-mumbling, with a pleasant Jagger-esque falsetto in evidence on several tracks; but the album's MVP is surely the keyboardist, Tony Rogers, whose frisky organ and electric piano parts are a constant delight.