Pias - 2003 - 36 minutes

I was never a fan of The Charlatans. Apart from a fond acquaintance with their song 'One to Another', I have little knowledge of the UK band's back catalogue. I had no towering expectations of their lead singer, Tim Burgess, on his solo outing so it's a pleasant surprise to discover that 'I Believe' is quite an amazing pop album.

From the lazy grooves of the saxophone-led opener, 'I Believe in The Spirit', it's clear the former Charlatan is feeling experimental, perhaps eager to shed his indie-kid persona. Like his fellow floppy-haired countryman, Ed Harcourt, who he often sounds like, Burgess seems to be able to turn his hand to any genre. 'While We All Need Love' is sunny and uplifting, with its strings and horn section and joyful lyrics, 'Held in Straps' is edgy and laden with vitriol: "Even when I'm crap I'm still too good for you/You're just a piece of trash and if I had a gun I'd shoot you up the ass".

On an album with an incredible mix of sounds, 'Say Yes' is without a doubt the most surprising track. Part disco and part Motown, it's 'Going Loco in Acapulco' with a mirror ball. It could sit nicely in the charts alongside Scandinavian 70s revivalists Junior Senior and shows Burgess is in no danger of disappearing up his own arse anytime soon.

'Years Ago' will no doubt evoke comparisons with Cerys Matthews, formerly of Catatonia, who also released her debut album this year. Perhaps these two Stetson wearers will bump into each other in a Nashville watering hole one of these days and share stories of fame and excess and how they found salvation with a banjo and harmonica.

A glance at the album notes gives an insight into Burgess' varied inspirations - Curtis Mayfield, Joe Strummer, The Beach Boys - and offers a sort of explanation for the range on 'I Believe' from upbeat pop to country to guitar funk. However, it's the gorgeous cello and harmonica-led 'Be My Baby' that stands out and gives you tingles the first time you hear it.

Like all good things, at just 36 minutes, 'I Believe' is much too short. Make no assumptions based on whether you're a fan of The Charlatans or not: Tim Burgess' solo debut really must be heard to be believed.

Anne-Louise Foley

Tracklisting: I Believe In The Spirit - Held in Straps - Only a Boy - We All Need Love - Oh My Corazon - Be My Baby - Years Ago - Say Yes - Love to Spend the Night - Po' Boy Soul - All I Ever Do