In the Music Spotlight: The Charlatans

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BY JEFF ELBEL | FOR THE SUN-TIMES

English band The Charlatans , known stateside as The Charlatans UK, came of age with 1990’s “Some Friendly.” The album featured the dreamy, organ-fueled alternative rock hit “The Only One I Know.”

The quintet’s sound was bundled into the era’s Madchester scene, with danceable house rhythms, R&B grooves, and touchstones to psychedelic and classic rock. Tim Burgess’ voice, Tony Rogers’ keyboards and Mark Collins’ guitar each signify the group’s sonic identity today, anchored by Martin Blunt’s reliable Motown-informed bass.

The Charlies were previously scheduled to visit the Double Door in 2010. That show was cancelled two days prior, when founding drummer Jon Brookes collapsed in Philadelphia. He succumbed to brain cancer in 2013.

The loss influenced the band’s new twelfth album “Modern Nature,” but the band agreed that it should be an uplifting experience in Brookes’ memory. “We wanted to make quite an optimistic record,” says Burgess. “I think it’s the record that we all wanted to make, Jon included. He just wasn’t here in a physical form.”

Although “Modern Nature” was marked by the passing of a dear old friend, it was also impacted by arrival of Burgess’ first child. “He’s two and a half now,” says Burgess. “The last thing Jon said to me was, ‘How’s your little boy?’”

The specific meaning of the euphoric “Come Home Baby” is elusive, but it’s easy to interpret the song’s balance of anticipation and trepidation as the new fatherhood experience. Burgess’ infant son was a constant presence in the studio. “It was inspiring to see life growing daily,” says Burgess. “He was in some ways the monitor of what was a good track. If he reacted, it was a primal response that was wonderful to see.”

The shimmering and summery sound of “Emilie” masks a tragic tale. Despite the joyful overall tone of “Modern Nature,” Burgess was inspired by a forlorn pop classic. “Q magazine asked me to present an award to Dionne Warwick for the song ‘Walk On By,’” he says. “I’ve known that song all my life, and never really studied the lyrics. I found out how absolutely heartbreaking they were. I think, subconsciously, I wanted to write a song like that.”

The distinctly English band has had a longstanding foothold in Chicago. “We’ve had a great relationship with Chicago from the very beginning,” says Burgess. “A lot of our music was inspired by Chicago house music, especially with ‘Some Friendly.’”

* The Charlatans, with Eyelids, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, (312) 923-2000. Tickets $29.50+fees (ages 17+over); livenation.com.

SPOTIFY playlist: http://bit.ly/CharlatansSPOT

Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.

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