Wonderland, The Charlatans UK MCA

Paul Wong
Courtesy of Knopf

Think Brit rock mixed with techno. Think bluesy, bassy riffs meeting electronic beeps and bumps. Think Moby sharing the stage with the Oasis. It is a strange soup, but the taste is surprisingly good.

Wonderland is the newest effort from The Charlatans UK, a band that has survived fame, imprisonment, death, and even an accountant stealing five hundred thousand from the treasure chest. This is definitely a “Behind the Music” band.

The Charlatans have certainly braved the storm and Wonderland is their proof. It struts with experience, yet is driven by a youthful experimentation. The band has been tinkering with techno and trance for some years now and Wonderland seems to be the destination they”ve been looking for.

The album glides with a particularly feel good mood. Even the sad songs refuse to dwell on hard times. You get the feeling that these Brits want the listener to celebrate life, rather than feel its harshness. There is little variation in the tone of the album, but these ten tracks are grooveable. Wonderland has that cool vibe that makes errands or washing the dishes less of a chore. You”ll scrub and still muse over how they jam with all the different tones on the synthesizer. Remember there was clarinet, jazz guitar, harpsichord, etc.

The Charlatans tinkering sonically begs a nod to singer Tim Burgesses” smart vocal work. Be warned, much of the singing is in falsetto. But his reservation in volume, his quivering cadences and hopeful emotions prove that the man has got a vision. And I don”t mean that in a “paint a canvas purple and the artist has a vision” way. I mean Burgess wants to soothe and affect you just as the music does. It”s like he”s singing hymns in church, but has absolute faith in the words and music.

Wonderland is a solid album. It”s not an album that you”re going to mosh to or scream along with the choruses, but it”s fun. Moreover, it”s a breath of fresh air that seems extremely appropriate for this week, as well as for the angry and alienated rap-rock phase that music is currently languishing in. Plus, at the end of the album, you”ll look around and say “Wow, where the hell did all these clean dishes come from?”

Grade: A-

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