The Zutons, The Charlatans 2006 David Bennun
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The Zutons/
The Charlatans

[The Mail On Sunday, 2005]



GIVEN THE SPIRIT of retrospection that has animated rock music - pretty vigorously, at that - for the last five years, it can't be long before some bright spark takes a gander at Nuggets and thinks: now, there's an idea.
 Lenny Kaye's 1972 labour of love collected fine but unrenowned tracks from the garage rock/psychedelic era then just gone. By a nice irony, it was a great and deserved success, and sells to this day. Soon, knock-offs of variable quality were compiling the output of departed also-rans. Bands who condensed one idea into a single song, then wanly repeated it or vanished. Bands who had no ideas at all, but stole from others with such energy and zeal that you couldn't help but enjoy it.
 The punk/post-punk/new wave revival signalled by the advent of The Strokes is ripe for such anthologising. Already it's brimming with future one hit wonders, livelier than they are original, who (unless they pull off something spectacular sharpish) will at best have produced a solitary defining moment. The Sixties lot copied the sounds of the week before. The current batch copy the sounds from decades ago. In a few years, that distinction won't matter.
 While it's easy to guess who might yield up a Nugget or two, predicting which acts will be remembered as more substantial is a mug's game. What you can do is point out the ones who seem more substantial right now. Which bring us to The Zutons. This agreeably odd five-piece warranted the attention they received for a debut album, Who Killed The Zutons, ranging from fun, functional stomp-pop to a jangling slightness reminiscent of fellow Merseysiders and labelmates The Coral.
 The follow-up, Tired Of Hangin' Around, may not be an altogether great record, but it's certainly a meaty and satisfying one - muscular, even, by comparison to its predecessor. While most of their indie contemporaries give the impression of stealing sly glances at themselves in a hand mirror to check they've got the pose just so, The Zutons have simply got on with it. If anything, they're closer to Scissor Sisters in the unabashed directness of their style, and to The Magic Numbers and Hal in their pre-punk tastes.
 The Zutons prefer glam and pub rock to the more voguish genres which absorbed and put paid to those earlier movements - although they've evidently heard a few X-Ray Spex and Ian Dury & The Blockheads records in their time, which is no bad thing at all. They play with a confidence and a gusto that suggests they'd be doing exactly the same thing even if the market demanded Smiths imitators (and it will, soon enough - we're just about up to 1983.)
 In frontman David McCabe, The Zutons have an increasingly adept songwriter, one who was already dishing out slice-of-life Englishness (alongside rudimentary rhyming chants) when Arctic Monkeys burst through that particular serving hatch. He's fashioned his band an album that's refreshingly unhip, and pulls off the unusual trick of being congenial but not ingratiating.
 To illustrate the folly of forecasting which acts will endure: in 1990, you would not have bet on Baggy latecomers The Charlatans releasing a second album, let alone the ninth in a career that has encompassed some startlingly good music. Sadly, Simpatico does little but make up the numbers.
 Imposing laws upon rock'n'roll goes against the nature of the thing; but given the power to issue one decree, I'd insist that only bands who play reggae all the time should be allowed to play reggae at all. (I know, The Clash - exceptions proving the rule and all that.) Reggae is a rock acts' graveyard; even attempting atmospheric 2-Tone sophisto-Ska, rather than Dreadlock Holiday abominations, the Charlies for once live down to their nickname.
 Simpatico evokes The Dead 60s more than The Specials - the sound of a band plodding through a hollow echo-chamber. Titling one especially tepid number For Your Entertainment, they don't so much shoot themselves in the foot as numbingly tread, again and again, on their own toes.

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