Universal-Island - 2004 - 45 minutes

Nearly three years after their last album 'Wonderland' garnered widespread critical acclaim, The Charlatans are back with an album that is unlikely to endear them to the music press in the same way.

'Wonderland' was a watershed in this band's, and in particular lead singer Tim Burgess', career. Burgess had moved to Los Angeles to live with his American wife and The Charlatans' music was definitely a step closer to Echo Park than Stanley Park.

However, this time around most of the songs off 'Up At The Lake' originated from a period Burgess and guitarist Mark Collins spent at a cottage on Bodwin Moor in Cornwall. The result is that while this album signals another change of direction for them, they seem to be heading back towards their English roots.

Unfortunately the songs are pretty inconsistent. The good ones like 'Cry Yourself to Sleep' and 'I'll Sing a Hymn' are well worth listening to, but tracks like 'Feel the Pressure' and 'Blue for You' are poor, half-hearted efforts. The rest are reasonable but unremarkable.

'Feel the Pressure' is fast-paced and its beats are said to be inspired by the band's close connections with the Chemical Brothers. If so, those brothers are a bad influence on Tim & Co and, the next time they come knocking, someone should tell them they're not allowed to play anymore.

To be fair, the album does grow on you - and not in the way a wart does. A few listens and you'll find yourself unwittingly humming some of the tunes. But it's far from being a classic and will live long in the shadow of the better stuff The Charlatans have produced.

Seamus Leonard

Tracklisting: Up At The Lake - Feel The Pressure - As I Watch You In Disbelief - Cry Yourself To Sleep - Bona Fide Treasure - High Up Your Tree - Blue for You - I'll Sing a Hymn (You Came To Me) - Loving You Is Easy - Try Again Today - Apples And Oranges - Dead Love