The Charlatans have come a long way from their heady indie
days in the early ‘90s. Coming after a year’s hiatus,
Up at the Lake is a spangly, guitar-powered, disco-ballad engine.
Powering out upbeat anthems such as ‘Feel the
Pressure’, this is The Charlatans at their most technically
brilliant. The album even features the occasional slice of
well-crafted melancholia that creates a stylistic balance.
Perhaps raw invention is something of a martyr to production
values here, with the ballads, in particular, sounding as if
they’ve spent too long in the studio before being approved.
Nevertheless, this is a solid album that showcases exactly why
The Charlatans have been at the top of Britpop for over a decade. Releasing in May was a prudent move: if any recent British
album screams “summer” then this is it. Even the slower
numbers sound as if they should be crooned out at a summer
festival. This is achieved by some delicate instrumentals in
perfect harmony with one another, One surprise is the
adaptability of Burgess’ voice. We already knew that he
could punch out a rock anthem; the surprise here is how sensitive
and soaring his voice can be. This suits the new grown-up aura surrounding The Charlatans.
The trials of musical success allow Up At The Laketo eschew the
stoned-sounding guitar playing and mumbling vocals of lesser
contemporaries in favour of thoughtful lyrics and a subtly
layered sound. Perhaps it can’t strictly be called indie,
but The Charlatans sound as if they don’t care. By being
willing to embrace a less specific, more experimental sound
(underwater piano, anyone?), they avoid sounding like a group who
meet up to churn out the same mindless crap year after year. The Charlatans have achieved a rare thing for such a
well-established band – an album that manages to sound both
fresh and evolved. It is overproduced in parts; ‘Loving You
Is Easy’ would sound more like a Pop Idol finalist’s
song were it not for the guitar rollicking around in the
background. If extensive fiddling around is what’s needed to
produce an album of such quality, it can be forgiven. As Burgess
croons in ‘Bona Fide Treasure’, “the cream of the
crop, with cheese on top.” Set aside comparable acts, this
is quite true.ARCHIVE: 3rd week TT 2004