I recently saw The Charlatans perform at an emotionally charged Old Trafford, defiantly continuing in the face of the tragic events at the Manchester Arena by filling a 50,000 arena within the following week. Given that they were the only band on the billing that my mum had heard of, I was expecting big things. However, I was left disappointed as I found it difficult to distinguish between similar-sounding songs. It felt like a changing of the guard on the Manchester music scene, as the excellent Blossoms and maniacal Cabbage continued their meteoric rise and The Courteeners showed why they regularly pack out venues up north. A band that has been performing for thirty years, releasing thirteen studio albums, must run out of ideas at some point, and it was with that expectation that I approached the latest release from Tim Burgess’ outfit, Different Days.
The first thing I noticed was the cyclical nature of the album’s tracks. Hey Sunrise is the first song of an album that ends with The Setting Sun and Spinning Out, giving the impression that the whole album takes the form of an entire piece of work, rather than a sequence of singles. And indeed, there is a feeling of continuity to an album that reads like the guest list of Noel Gallagher’s 50th birthday party, with cameos from Jonny Marr, Paul Weller, Pete Salisbury and Stephen Morris, along with author Ian Rankin, among the highlights. The continuity does not equal repetition however; each song brings something different to the table in an album of pop songs of the coolest order. Hooks and catchy choruses belie melancholy lyrics, with the album’s lead single Plastic Machinery standing out immediately as an example. Despite the lyrics telling of a desperate plea to escape authoritarianism – the plastic machinery “working in our heads” – the song’s jangly melody and upbeat tone seem to focus on the joy of standing out from the crowd, instead of bemoaning the systems that enforce such subservience. For a band that have seen the death of two members and the mental breakdown of another, this ability to turn grief into happy-sounding songs is characteristic of the band’s enduring ability to keep on keeping on. While the album opens with the calm, collected Hey Sunrise, the pop-oriented tone becomes apparent with Solutions, a song comprising keyboard, a regular drumbeat and the upbeat intonations of Tim Burgess’ voice. Having introduced this theme, it remains prominent, albeit with variations, for the remainder of the album. Different Days retains the catchiness but becomes slower and more thoughtful; Not Forgotten introduces a computer-based element and bluesy sound, as well as Jonny Marr’s input, that works well; Let’s Go Together is a rare example of a Tim Burgess love song that isn’t totally depressing. It works well as a work of complete art. The album’s cycle must end however, and Paul Weller’s expertise makes Spinning Out an echo of the opener in its weariness, a reflection upon the album that mirrors the album’s sunset and the band’s twilight years. The music’s journey ends where it began, leaving listeners to thoroughly enjoy the route.
An unexpected, and slightly unnecessary addition to the album was the spoken word sections of Future Tense and The Forgotten One, courtesy of Ian Rankin and Sharon Horgan. The words, ruminations on life and its varying degrees of enjoyableness and success for the speakers, are jarring in the middle of the music. While they are not strictly a world away from the song lyrics themselves, Tim Burgess’ words are lightened up by the accompanying music, a saving grace not granted to these parts. Thus the spoken words seem to take away from the album’s flow. Nevertheless, it indicates a willingness to experiment that is a positive sign for the prospects of a band that have been around for a very long time. My original judgement, that the band’s songs were all alike, now appears to be borne of excessive drinking to prepare for the rowdiness of Cabbage; this is a fresh yet reassuring album, and Tim Burgess deserves all the credit he gets for such an esteemed musical career.