Britain – circa 1995. Blur and Oasis duke it out as lords of Britpop. Bands across the country adopt pealing guitar tones, hip ironic attitudes, and songs that are either cute little vignettes or giant anthems to nothing in particular. The tambourine enjoys a rock renaissance. It becomes entirely acceptable to use lyrics such as “la la la,” “oh oh yeah,” or even “oo oo oo.”
Among this torrent of brash optimism, some reasonable bands appear. Other, terrible bands drag themselves onto the Britpop bandwagon. The Charlatans, with their baggy grooves and regional accents, fall somewhere between the two extremes. A decade later, the Britpop dinosaurs have been wiped out by an asteroid or something (pessimism or garage, possibly). But what’s this? The Charlatans have survived the apocalypse, popping up shaking tambourines and singing earnestly about, ya know, stuff. And it’s all right, in a time-capsule kind of way. There are plus-sized riffs and grooves that lope along between guitar and keyboards, while the rhythm section remains pocketed, proficient and unobtrusive. Tim Burgess’s faux-Mancunian sneer soars anthemically, and yes, he intones the immortal lyric “oo oo oo” more than once. Standout tracks such as opening salvo “Blackened Blue Eyes” or the disco-inflected “NYC,” are stomping choons with more than enough groove to put a shake in your cake. But there’s also some crap on this record – the ill-advised foray into the world of reggae that constitutes “City of the Dead,” or the lumpen, limping non-event that is “Muddy Ground.” On the whole, it’s a real mixed bag, but worth checking out.