I feel about Britpop the way Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart feels about Pornography—I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it, or in this case, hear it. My touchstones are the same for almost all millenials, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? and “Bitter Sweet Symphony.” There’s a commercial I’ve seen lately that features that one Supergrass song, but I can’t say with any certainty who Supergrass is, nor do they play that song with any regularity on any of the radio stations I shuffle through like pop-song-deity “Wonderwall” or The Verve’s pessimistic Rolling Stones rip off. Oh, and Pulp. And Blur.
My lack of any kind of meter for what Britpop is certainly has a lot to do with the fact that I am an American Aquarium Drunkard. When Oasis came out, I groaned along with everyone else “maybeeeeeeeeee/ you’re gonna be the one that saves meeeee,” but I was much more concerned with what Green Day and Nirvana were up to. I still think Ryan Adam’s version of “Wonderwall” is better, and perhaps surprisingly, Noel agrees.
So when I gave The Charlatans—stylized in America as The Charlatans UK because of an American band from the 60s with the same name—new album Modern Nature a listen, I knew almost immediately that I had a Britpop band on my hands. I began searching my internal thesaurus for good Britwords to use—I desperately wanted to use the word “Mancunian,” if only so that people might know that I knew what that word meant and what it had to do with The Smiths. Unfortunately, The Charlatans are not from Manchester, but where Robin Hood and Shakespeare are from.
This information didn’t help me decipher Modern Nature. Each time I played it through, my brain reached for something to relate to, finding Deep Purple’s organ on “Let The Good Times Be Never Ending” or The Zombies on “Tall Grass.” The song “Need You To Know,” feels like it comes directly from a Pierce Brosnan-era James Bond movie. What that means, at least to me, is that this album is British, which, yeah, I knew that already.
The sound is smooth, a bit serpentine, synthy, moody, but in a dancey kind of way that I’m sure they’ll play cuts from this album in that discotheque that was in Trainspotting. Modern Nature blends the grooves with power-house choruses that I remember from the mid-nineties. In my head, I square this away by the fact that I know that Brits still go to discos because the Arctic Monkeys had that one song, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor,” and that they are responsible for the biggest fucking festivals—ones that make ours look like summer camp for spoiled brats.
Despite all my misgivings, the album is interesting. I’m right there with them throughout, but especially on “Tall Grass” because of that keyboard solo. It hits all the right notes of the British Invasion that I grew up obsessed with. “Trouble Understanding” gets the opposite end of the spectrum, reminding me of a George Michael track, a great British songwriter despite his proclivity towards revealing himself in bathrooms.
They end the album with “Lot To Say,” which is unfortunately not a problem I am having when it comes to writing this. I wish I had more to say, and that I could have legitimately squeezed “Mancunian” into this review. It speaks to the very idea that a critic can’t be right on all the time. On a scale of Mongolian Throat Singers to Bob Dylan, Britpop exists somewhere near Court Gamelan or Glenn Miller. That said, the limitations are my own: any fan of Britpop is going to love this album, it is consistently interesting, upbeat in a minor key, dancey and chorusey. Modern Nature deserves an appreciative audience, and considering the nostalgia tide sweeping the nation, it’ll be sure to find one here.
Article: Christopher Gilson