Album Reviews: Simpatico by The Charlatans UKHalf of every mention of the The Charlatans over the past few years has seemed to indicate that the band has been enjoying a charmed (and nearly decade-long, by now) second coming. Seasoned songcraft, the overcoming of in-band adversity, and a renewed vigor are all hallmarks of critics' suggestions that the band has returned to form.
What's important to recall, though, is that the band was marginally talented the first time around, a trendy London response to the hedonism of Manchester circa-1990. It's been a bumpy road ever since the band reached its critical peak with 1997's Tellin' Stories, with each new album curiously still amazing critics with unforeseen levels of stability and complexity. But the fact that a band has overcome death and incarceration of its members -- not to mention an early penchant for fluffy and fashionable song-writing -- doesn't necessarily make for good art.
The limp rock-reggae of "For Your Entertainment," "City of the Dead," and "The Architect," all of which sadly bring to mind a nodding Sublime, should be enough to put anyone off this album. But for all the lame melodies found up front, many of the supporting arrangements are actually very decent. Behind half of these cheesy guitar leads and vapid vocals, there is a piano countermelody ("Blackened Blue Eyes" in particular) or keyboard texture ("Road to Paradise") that adds weight to the track. Welcome piano lines even take a decisive lead in a couple of tracks, notably "Muddy Ground." Inventive (or at least various) percussive elements lend substance to the intros to both "NYC" and "Dead Man's Eye," giving otherwise throwaway tracks a bit of life support. The album even ends on a bit of a high note, with the melancholy "Glory Glory" reaching a subtle height of restrained songwriting. And "Sunset & Vine" is actually a sophisticated and slick electronica take on dub, which almost makes you forgive the albums earlier rock-reggae blunders. Almost. There's no getting around how uninspired most of these songs are, but many are dressed quite nicely, making them just about listenable. -- Cory O'Malley
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