The Charlatans prove there’s life after Brit-pop

The Charlatans U.K., The Wonderland – three out of five Hatchets

Despite many successes in their native England and across Europe, The Charlatans remain virtually unknown in the United States. The addition of “U.K.” to their name serves the practical purpose of avoiding lawsuits from the defunct 1960s group who possesses rights to the name in the United States.

But the designation of origin also grants the band some minor recognition by the relentless Anglophile music fans on this side of the Atlantic.

Listeners expecting the usual Brit-pop will find that The Charlatans have succeeded in keeping their music surprisingly current, drawing much of their contemporary sound from dance music.

The satisfying 10-song disc maintains relics from the band’s past, from organ and keyboard riffs to singer Tom Burgess’ high-range rock vocals. Recorded partly in Los Angeles – where Burgess and his wife reside – and half in England – where the other band members have remained – Wonderland plays for both teams: the new dance crowd and the traditional rock crowd that brought them into fame during the early ’90s.

Some of the band’s beat-oriented songs, such as “Love is the Key,” lose force after crossing the four-minute mark, and Burgess’ lyrics are as insipid as any in the Brit-pop or dance genres. The repetitive “A Man Needs to be Told” becomes unbearable by the end of the first verse.

Wonderland’s best dance-beat tracks, the instrumental “The Bell and the Butterfly,” show that The Charlatans’ talent as a musical unit should not be underestimated.

“Wake up,” coming late in the track roster, stands out as the only rock number untouched in the band’s new shift of focus. The song maintains the group’s credentials as a member of the rock world.

But as Wonderland shows, sometimes it is more than worth the risk to step away from tradition and take a shot at something fresh.

Wonderland is in stores now.
Beulah, The Coast Is Never Clear – two out of five Hatchets

Beulah’s music carries on the brave tradition of bands such as Pavement and Ben Lee, playing what would best be described as smart pop. The group’s new CD, The Coast Is Never Clear, carefully combines oblique, esoteric lyrics with bright, cheery pop music. The result is an entirely uninspiring formula.

Tracks such as “Hey Brother” and “A Good Man Is Easy To Kill” pull together a scrappy band of musicians whose simplistic, generic melodies try to gain strength in numbers. But the seven band members and cast of guest artists featured on The Coast Is Never Clear produce orchestrations that prove no matter how many zeros get added together, the final sum can only be naught.

Beulah’s songs hardly stray from the straight and narrow, and the album’s tracks are so seamlessly arranged that it would be forgivable to listen to all 12 before realizing 40 minutes had passed. The album’s only surprise comes as the album draws to a close, and the fully anaesthetized listener must return to reality.

The type of pop Beulah aspires to really deserves a clearer title, as its bubblegum sound is closer to popular music of the 1960s than it is to what could be found on any of the recent Now That’s What I Call Music compilations.

Although it lacks Beulah’s hip, self-conscious irony, at least what is known as Top-40 has progressed over the past four decades. Bands like Beulah have set themselves firmly in their sugarcoated vision of pop music’s past.

The Coast Is Never Clear is in stores Tuesday.

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