Universal – 2001 – 57 minutes
I saw the new Charlatans video with a friend. He erupted into a stream of bitter invective against the band, calling them the most obvious and least talented band in the world, whose lack of artistic ambition was despicable and who, if there was any justice in the world, should have plunged into obscurity years ago.
I half-agreed with him. The Melting Pot retrospective collection showed how the joyous, expansive Charlatans had slid into a sewer of muddy riffs and dull, 'rawk' posturing – from the Stone Roses to Ocean Colour Scene in six albums.
In truth, the first single from 'Wonderland', 'Love is the Key', IS dreadful; formulaic rock'n'roll featuring a riff recycled from REM's 'The One I Love', and a lacklustre Beck impression by vocalist Tim Burgess.
But Wonderland holds a few surprises. The loping beats and fat bass of opener, 'You're So Pretty, We're So Pretty', recalls producer Danny Saber's work on the first Black Grape album, and the return of the band's trademark keyboards propels the funky swagger of 'Judas'.
The Neil Young-ish 'A Man Needs To Be Told' veers off into a breakbeat-accompanied gospel coda, while 'I Just Can't Get Over Losing You' is smattered with dark electronic stabs.
There's still quite a few duds, closing tracks 'Right On' and 'Love To You' are as imaginative as their titles but the overall result is the sound of a band waking up to produce their best work in years. It's not exactly a wonderland, but it's pretty damn close.
Tracklisting: You're So Pretty - We're So Pretty - Judas - Love Is The Key - A Man Needs To Be Told - I Just Can't Get Over Losing You - Bell And The Butterfly - And If I Fall - Wake Up - Is It In You? - Ballad Of The Band - Right On - Love To You