Friday, 22 July 2016

50 albums to take to my grave #39: Wonderland

You all know I'm a massive fan of the Charlatans, right? But like my Super Furry Animals choice last week, you probably weren't expecting this album. To be fair, at the time, nobody was. While there was always a bit of a funky element to the Charlatans' sound with Rob Collins' organ on those terrific early records, 'Wonderland' came totally from left field. This was the Charlatans going properly funk and soul on yo' ass.

It was trailed by the quite simply mind-blowing single Love Is The Key, featuring female backing singers and Tim Burgess channelling Curtis Mayfield. It ought to have been the biggest track of the year. It certainly had the phattest groove the Charlies had ever put down and sounded like nothing else they had ever done before. But was it representative of the rest of the album? Well yes, as it turned out. You're So Pretty - We're So Pretty is a glorious blend of the Madchester swagger of old and this new-found funk frenzy with Martin Blunt's bass taking centre stage.

But sandwiched between You're So Pretty and Love Is The Key is probably, for me anyway, the band's finest moment. Judas is so funky it hurts. That bass is so heavy it threatens to crack your skull as it vibrates through your head. As good an opening trio of songs as you'll find on any album ever. The slick, glossy dance-fuelled theme continues through I Can't Get Over Losing You and Wake Up, but there is room for a bit of eclecticism. The lovely If I Fall, and the saucy Is It In You? ("Is it in you? / I'm a burning hunk of love") have more than a slight air of San Franciscan psychedelia about them, while A Man Needs To Be Told is, to all intents and purposes, a country song.

By now Tim was shacked up in Los Angeles, a far cry from his northwest England roots, and clearly the musical influence of the States had taken hold of him and, by association, his bandmates. Only a couple years before this they made a record that sounded like a paean to Bob Dylan. The soul direction was definitely the better route, as far as I'm concerned. I loved 'Wonderland' the first time I heard it, and 15 years later, I still love it, perhaps even more than I did back then.

For the record, I consider 'Wonderland' to be a 10-song album, ending with the fabulously decadent Ballad Of The Band. It's a fitting closing track to a massive-sounding record. In the UK and a few other territories, we got two extra tracks, neither of which do anything for the album; one sounds like a demo and the other a b-side. It's a mystery to me why they were included at all. They are the only negatives and I regard them purely has bonus tracks that were tacked on at the end as an afterthought. Take them out of the equation, and 'Wonderland' is damn near perfect. The Charlatans have long been one of my favourite bands, but their albums can be somewhat hit and miss. This is an undoubted hit all the way.


Here's the band's appearance on Top Of The Pops doing Love Is The Key:

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