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wonderland
The Charlatans UK
Wonderland
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The way in which people constantly and consistently take The Charlatans for granted really is quite unfair. When it comes down to brass tacks, there are very few (British) bands operating today who have put as much blood, sweat and tears into creating music as The Charlatans. Perhaps the most frequently overlooked facet of the band is that above all else, this is a group of survivors, united in their struggle to live and work as musicians. After all, they are the only group left from Manchester's early-nineties "baggy" boom. One by one, their compatriots fell by the wayside. The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Hothouse Flowers and dozens of others whose names we canít possibly recall... But The Charlatans remain. Which leaves us wondering, why them?

Wonderland will answer that question. It's the groupís seventh album in just over ten years, and its seemingly endless reliance on modern technology heralds a new era of their existence. Produced by the Charlatans themselves, with assistance from dance auteur Danny Saber and James Spencer, Wonderland is the sound of a band embracing and then discarding its past in order to forge ahead into a new tomorrow. The youthful exuberance of Between 10th and 11th and Up to Our Hips is gone, replaced by savage rock Ďn roll sensibilities that owe as much to Sly and the Family Stone as they do to the Rolling Stones.

Saberís techno-centric production is the key element that will help distinguish Wonderland from the glut of British rock records released over the next few months. His synthetic funk grooves permeate "Youíre So Pretty-Weíre So Pretty" and "Ballad of the Band", breathing new life into the groupís predominantly guitar-based compositions. "Judas" is absolutely brilliant: a swelling, demonic groove (courtesy of drummer extraordinaire Jon Brookes and producer Saber) pulsates beneath slinky guitar runs and Tim Burgessí high-register cry. The Charlatans throw down the funk dancehall style with the lysergic instrumental "The Bell and the Butterfly", then kick out the soul-drenched rock like a group of banshees in heat on the sweltering, riff-driven "Love is the Key". Listening to Wonderland, youíll not only question whether or not this is the same group that penned "Canít Get Out of Bed", but wonder what on Earth happened to turn those five innocent lads into the sexually-charged rock Ďn soul killing machine that now commands your speakers.

Though their last few efforts have hinted at bigger things to come, Wonderland's triumphant, life-affirming power was almost entirely unexpected -- and is undoubtedly one of the group's finest recorded moments. The time for ignoring and overlooking The Charlatans has passed. Embrace them now, while you still have the opportunity -- because at some point, even the toughest kids on the block will decide to call it a day.

-- Jason Jackowiak
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