The Charlatans, Up at the Lake

The lead singer of the U.K.-based Charlatans, Tim Burgess, has lived in L.A. since 1998. The band’s two most recent albums have met a lukewarm reception by both critics and the public alike. It’s long been rumored that the steam’s gone, the momentum’s lost, the desire for everyone involved to continue on all but burnt away by years of just surviving as one of the most renown modern rock bands—15 years, in case anyone’s asking.

Whether or not on the verge of permanent breakup, the band sequestered themselves on a songwriting retreat at a lakeside Cornwall cottage, with the self-imposed challenge to pen ten new songs in as many days. Ten new songs—with a new determination and purpose. The result, Up at the Lake, succeeds on all counts, and flaunts a vastly reinvigorated Charlatans, and significant changes in their direction.

While they’ve always pulled the rock like few others, the Charlatans have always been a pop band at heart. And that continues here, shed of the Stones and Dylan stylings upon which they’ve relied too much in the past. There is a quality to Up at the Lake that is incomparable to anything immediately recognizable, and actually sounds like they’ve given up on all the gesturing by instead writing a very honest kind of music here. Here they’re falling into their own sound more and more, track after track, exploring all the great things about their own style—rather than emulating others for the sake of direction. There are uncountable moments of total surprise at some of the musical turns they make on the new record. A lot of times when you can be sure, no, you’ve never really heard anything quite like this.

A reworking of ‘Loving You is Easy Cause You’re Beautiful,’ imbuing it with a Carly Simon lyric, a macabre piano line, and a barnstorming guitar solo? Have you heard that before? No, presumably not. Would you be surprised to find out it’s one of the best songs of the year? Listen and you’ll agree.

So, who are the Charlatans at this point? Listening to Up at the Lake doesn’t make us ask that question, it doesn’t make us wonder about the band’s future. The answers are all right here. They’ll continue to be just whatever it is they want to be, on their terms first, ours second. But what it is they are now is something extraordinary and never more essential.


Andrew Womack is a founding editor of The Morning News. He is always working on the next installment of the Albums of the Year series at TMN. More by Andrew Womack

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