No other pre-Oasis band embraced trad-rock like the Charlatans -- and to be fair, they did it exceedingly well, translating their baggy beats to a cool, swaggering rock & roll shuffle that paid off great dividends over the course of the next 15 years. By the end of the 2000s, they had become the rarest of things, a reliable rock band that seldom disappointed but the flip side of that is that they rarely surprised, either. Who We Touch is where that all changes.
Don’t let the first few seconds of Brit rockers The Charlatans’ 11th studio release deceive you. At first, you may think you’re listening to death metal. Loud guitar shredding and pounding drums welcome listeners to the album, but the chaos quickly gives way to the more toned down, alternative rock sound The Charlatans are known for. “Trust in Desire”—one of the album’s strongest—brings together several stringed instruments, making the song sound like an epic movie soundtrack, and “Sincerity” is an excellent track filled with toe-tapping, fist-pumping beats and sing-along lyrics.
Who suspected the Charlatans would be the one “Madchester” band that would last for 20 years? Their resilience has gained them no small amount of respect. What’s often overlooked, though, is that their music has maintained a remarkably consistent level of quality. Some of their albums have been better than others, but only one, Simpatico!, was a genuine dud.
Having been dogged by bad fortune and an almost perpetual stigma of 'right place, wrong time', it's something of a triumph that over 20 years on from the release of their first record, The Charlatans are still going strong. Indeed, the tide of adversity that's swept against them ever since 'Indian Rope' landed on the shelves during Manchester's first wave of baggy euphoria to cries of 'copyists!' (and less printable adjectives) hasn't stopped the five-piece from producing a consistently plausible output. Somewhat annoyingly labelled as 'survivors', a tag that never seems to get bandied about on fellow Stateside masters of longevity such as Sonic Youth or Yo La Tengo, it's to their credit that even now, every subsequent Charlatans long player is greeted with some anticipation, even if not to the degree it might have been a decade ago.
The Charlatans have always endeavored to stay relevant, consistently tweaking their sound at every corner of their prodigious 20-year career. Setting out their stall as Madchester ravers with their debut, Some Friendly, Tim Burgess and company have since surfed the Britpop wave to chart success during the mid-‘90s, only to get moody and introspective around the turn of the millennium, then finally dabbling with reggae and dub influences for 2006’s Simpatico. Who We Touch is a far more straightforward offering from the indie veterans, and while its hardly cutting edge, there’s certainly no question as to whether the group is still relevant musically.
Old fashioned, maybe even a little antiquated, but far from past it. Andrzej Lukowski 2010 The Charlatans have been described as survivors since a remarkably early stage, the adjective applied in relation to both their bounce back after a flop second album and also their continued success in the wake of the sad death of original keyboardist Rob Collins. Thirteen years on from that, however, and The Charlatans would be survivors in any case, on the simpler grounds of having been together a very long time.