THE CHARLATANS Wonderland (Universal/MCA)
This is the album on which The Charlatans, last survivors of baggy and perennially voted the unluckiest band in rock, go Hollywood and get paid. Singer Tim Burgess has moved out to Los Angeles, and "Wonderland" boasts a correspondingly widescreen and expensive lustre courtesy of producer Danny Saber. (A lustre that is almost single-handedly undermined by Universal's atrocious vinyl pressing, incidentally). And it's to their credit that in the face of all this potential for lavish excess The Charlatans stoically remain sounding exactly like The Charlatans, albeit shorn of most of the Dylan affectations that have provided some amusement over the course of their past few albums. Which leaves surprisingly little, unfortunately, most of the dozen tracks appearing as if genetically cloned from the band's own back catalogue, being similarly passably enjoyable and propulsive but not actually memorable to any great degree. The exception that tests the rule is latest single "A Man Needs To Be Told", on which Burgess borrows the Curtis Mayfield memorial torch from Lambchop's Kurt Wagner and croons a sweet falsetto hymn to masculine fallibility that might just be the best thing the band have yet created (and which boasts thought provoking lines such as "Ever wonder how much money the man who wrote "White Christmas" made?"). If you're a committed Charlatans fan you'll love "Wonderland" for the same reasons you've loved all of their previous six albums, whatever they may be. If you're merely curious you might well just wonder what all the fuss is about.