The Charlatans frontman talks about his new solo double LP Typical Music
Tim Burgess makes music that recalls the seminal sounds of authentic British rock in its late ‘60s and early ‘70s heyday, when bands like The Beatles, Pink Floyd, King Crimson and the Moody Blues set the standard for absolute experimentation in the studio.
It’s a sound primed with cinematic suggestion as well as both emotion and invention. The frontman and lead singer of the super successful British band The Charlatans has been following that tack throughout his career, one that encompasses some 30 years at the helm of his band, five remarkable solo albums, an online music platform, three unique memoirs, and establishing a signature record label of his own design.
Burgess’ new album, which goes by the unlikely title of Typical Music, is another example of his efforts and abilities unleashed at full throttle. A double album boasting a full 22 tracks, it spans a creative gauntlet, imbuing a sense of added edge and unpredictability to an already expansive template. Recorded at the world famous Rockfield Studios in Monmouthshire, Wales, the recording locale of The Charlatans’ 1997 epic album Tellin’ Stories, it brought back a certain sense of nostalgia and Déjà Vu, as well as a reminder about what sadly transpired when the band’s keyboard player Rob Collins was killed in a tragic auto accident following one of the sessions.
Nevertheless, following the shut-down and the distancing due to COVID, the new album gave Burgess reason to renew his enthusiasm for making music as he threw himself into the project with decided determination. He enlisted Daniel O’Sullivan, a gifted multi-instrumentalist, producer, and member of his live band, and visionary keyboard/synth wizard Thighpaulsandra (Julian Cope, Coil, Spiritualized) to help him see his efforts through to fruition.
“I just go to work to try and perfect things that will never be perfected,” Burgess commented during a zoom call from his home in London. “It’s kind of like a dream of mine to try and write the perfect song. And I just strive for that, even though I’m sure that it’ll never happen. I’ve continued to write albums since I first got the chance in 1990. I’ve written them sober. I’ve written them smoking weed. I’ve written them high on drugs and alcohol, and now with COVID, and yet they were all very strange, and memorable times.
“Recording it through COVID was really interesting because when we were recording it, we had to do it with a minimal amount of people, because we were all distanced. Studio time was cancelled because of lockdown, and then when things were lifted, we had to wear masks. So it was very interesting, because I couldn’t really see the expression on people’s faces, which made me think to myself, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve got to be so focused on what I want to achieve. I’ve got to be so sure of myself and sure of the songs because I can’t tell what people are thinking.’”
Nevertheless, there’s a feeling of joy and confidence that’s exuded even at the outset, beginning with the album’s first song, effectively titled “Here Comes the Weekend.” It sets the upbeat and effusive tone for the album overall and also serves as a springboard for the sheer volume of music that follows.
“People always say things like, ‘less is more,’ and we would say ‘no, more is more, more is always more,’” Burgess mused. “So 22 songs, that’s fine. I want to give everything that I have at this moment in time to the world. I can’t leave anything behind. All the songs have to go on there. So I just had to make them the best songs that they can be. I started slowly, very slowly. I couldn’t write for a long time, because I was usually out on tour, but I didn’t get the chance to tour my last one due to COVID. Hence, I had no kind of real or new experiences, no new people to have met, no new music, no fellow musicians to compare songs with while on tour, that kind of thing. So I struggled for a while. It was tough to tap into what I was trying to do. And then when it all came back, it just flowed out. With all the songs, it was just kind of like they were writing themselves.”
Nevertheless, Burgess is aware that a double disc boasting nearly two dozen songs does put a certain demand on its listeners, particularly at a time when people’s attention spans sometimes seem to be lagging. Nevertheless, he insists the music has to be heard.
“I just wanted them all to have a chance,” he said. “I thought it’d be great to do a double album. I had a copy of Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me by The Cure, and I thought, ‘Okay, sixteen tracks that’s really good. So I just wanted to have at least four tracks on each side. So I asked my producer to tell me when we had a good 16 tracks, and he said, ‘Well, we went way past that. We’ve got loads more. So we counted them and arrived at 22. And at that point, we started thinking that there might be 20 on the album or 18, but then they all just became like my friends, and all the songs became like interlinked with each other. Some are faster, some are slow, some were like an American sound, and some are like, cold and British. Some are fancy and some are somewhat basic, and I just thought they all kind of like made for a world that I was trying to create, during a time of real struggle for everybody.”
In that regard, Burgess found that he was on a mission to make the music.
“I felt fortunate to be able to go to work, especially in a situation where everyone was allowed added time,” he said. “You could feel it just walking along the streets. And when you’re with your best friends, you could feel it then too. There is some genre hopping, some more progressive stuff. And there’s one track that reminds me of like a multicolored surf song. Then there’s another one that reminds me kind of like monochrome surf punk. Some of it is very California sunshine, and some is like the Irish Sea. We wanted an orchestra, but there was only three of us. We couldn’t have any more people in the room.”
VIDEO: Tim Burgess “Typical Music”
Of course, the title of the album, Typical Music, does seem somewhat cheeky. Say what one will, but this music is hardly typical.
“In some ways, I was thinking that during these times, that typically music could save the day, that it will elevate you from feeling quite low to actually having a joyful day. And that’s kind of what the intention was for this album really.”
Given the critical acclaim Burgess has achieved, both with the band and on his own, he’s still reticent to suggest that outside expectations can steer him one way or any other. “I can only really set them for myself,” he suggests. “I just try try and make the best thing that I can. Obviously, I can’t make the same song again, mainly because it was of a certain time. I just have to strive to make something as honest and as great as I can really do, and that means that my expectations are pretty high. But I have no clue really what people think of the album. I mean, there have been some fantastic reviews, but I’ve not seen floods and floods and floods and floods, because it’s still so new.”
Nevertheless, Burgess says he is satisfied that he’s done the best he could in terms of putting out an album that boasts both quality and quantity. To that end, he maintains that he didn’t hold back.
“I don’t have anything else,” he suggests. “And that was the thing. That was the deal that I made with myself. I have to give it all. It’s like a total process of transformation.”