Album: The Charlatans, You Cross My Path (XFM)

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The Independent Culture

Radiohead's internet initiative is starting to be followed by other acts, with varying degrees of success.

I had hoped to be able to review Nine Inch Nails' internet-only Ghosts I-IV album, a project available in several permutations, including audiophile vinyl and two-hour CD versions; but NIN's server proved incapable of successfully furnishing even the basic nine-track free sampler.

There were no such problems with The Charlatans' new album, however. In a matter of minutes, it had arrived on my desktop, unzipped itself and was ready and waiting in a folder neatly labelled with band name and title: now that's service – and they didn't even ask for a tip. And, like Radiohead's In Rainbows, despite being free, the album is a triumphant reaffirmation of the band's essential qualities.

Those qualities have often been difficult to pin down, thanks to The Charlatans' penchant for changing direction from album to album. In the past, they've offered impressive pastiches of Dylan, the Stones, The Byrds, and Curtis Mayfield, while their last album, 2006's Simpatico, found the band beguiled by Studio One's rock-steady heritage. At a guess, the past year or two has been spent listening to Krautrock and the early Eighties Euro-influenced new-wave grooves of the young Simple Minds and New Order.

Watch the video for The Charlatans forthcoming single 'You Cross My Path'.

The opener "Oh! Vanity" chugs along like Neu! doing a cover of Booker T's "Time Is Tight", the propulsive motorik groove wreathed in swirling con-trails of psych-rock synthesiser, before being replaced by the skittish disco hi-hats, striding bass and electropop synth motif of "Bad Days", a dig at a former friend.

It's but one of a string of songs rooted in disaffection and break-up, delivered by Tim Burgess with the ingenuous reproach of Bernard Sumner. "I don't care that you dissed me/ And the bust-up, it felt good," he pouts in "Mis-takes", while the hustling rhythms of "Missing Beats (of a Generation)" cover what seems to be a ménage à trois.

The split reaches crisis proportions on the self-explanatory "My Name Is Despair" and the organ-driven mid-tempo rocker "A Day For Letting Go" ("This is the sound of a drown and a dream spilling down"), though whatever betrayal or disappointment Burgess has suffered, it clearly hasn't dimmed either his spirit or the band's knack for engaging melodies. Indeed, so replete with both is You Cross My Path that it may turn out to be The Charlatans' best album. But how will they make money from it?

Download this: 'Oh! Vanity', 'This Is The End', 'You Cross My Path', 'Bad Days', 'A Day For Letting Go'