The iJamming! Weekly Download: The Charlatans
(This post is aimed for the casual American reader, not the fanatical English music fan for whom it will be old news.)
Who can blame the Charlatans for giving their new single away for free? Last year, they released one of their finest albums, Sympatico – an album that was all the better for the fact that it took them into new territories, including some seriously respectable reggae – and the world barely blinked. Before the year was out, they were touring a fresh Greatest Hits album as if their lives depended on former glories. To add insult to injury, having been bounced through and off Universal Records (for whom they released the decidedly ropey Up At The Lake) and then opted to go the indie route with Sanctuary for Simpatico, they had to suffer silently as Sanctuary went through its own financial ills and was sold to Universal. You can understand why they would prefer to walk than end up back there.
Apologies for all the talk of industry BS before we get to the music, but it’s because of all the industry BS that acts like the Charlatans are now just saying, to hell with it, and giving the music away for free. The new single “You Cross My Path” – available at the band’s web site – sees the five-piece return to more “familiar” territory, a throw-back to mid-90s crunchy guitars and underlying organ, with a crisp drum line that suggests easy remix potential. Somewhere over their last couple of years of turmoil, the Charlatans have embraced Alan McGee as their manager, and the ever-enthusiastic big man has proclaimed “You Cross My Path” as the best Charlatans song since Tellin’ Stories’ “One To Another.” I can’t agree, because to do so would be to imply that the last decade has been devoid of greatness when, with 2001’s Wonderland and last year’s Sympatico, the quintet twice stretched their wings and proved that they’re so much more than a perpetually baggy Stones riff. But “You Cross My Path” is a damn good return to the sound of old, and bodes well for the group breaking an annoying decade long jinx of following up strong albums with weak ones.
Tim Burgess at the V Festival, August 2004. Read the review here.
The Charlatans have often seemed jinxed in other ways too. Wonderland was released in the States on September 11, 2001; before the shops opened, it was already DOA. Their announcement that they would be giving away their new album for free in the new year was beaten to the headlines when Radiohead issued a similar press release offering In Rainbows for nominal download the very next week. But the Charlatans have long known how to weather such storms. And their following has stuck by them throughout. Indeed, a full decade ago, I recall their previous manager remarking how the group consistently plays to more people in New York than buy their albums in that fine city. Under such circumstances, I think the Charlatans are grasping, as are so many other acts, that the music itself – at least in its initial CD format – is a loss leader. Let people hear (some of?) the music for free and they’re more likely to pay to come to the gigs. That, at least, appears to be the theory. We’re all waiting to see how it turns out in practice.