Madchester contender, Britpop pin-up, reformed coke addict, Transcendental Meditater, bestselling autobiographer – Tim Burgess has ticked many boxes on the rock superstar checklist in his two decades with The Charlatans. A solo career, initiated with 2003′s I Believe, however, seemed to have stalled right there, as his energies were consumed by the Charlies, who enjoyed an unforeseen purple patch through the Noughties.
After the break-up of the marriage that took him to California – he now lives back in North London – the chipmunk-chirpy singer obviously had a little more time on his hands, and resolved to record this second solo offering, parallel to writing his memoir. Recalling an encounter with Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner, where they’d vaguely agreed to write a song together, he duly made contact again and flew to Wagner’s hometown, Nashville. There, they entered into an unusual creative partnership, meeting for coffee every morning before going off to work on each other’s ideas separately until the next morning’s summit. The music was largely done by Tim, the words by Kurt, who sought, apparently, “to be Burgess’s mirror.”
Listening to Oh No I Love You, it certainly sounds as if Wagner accurately reflected the singer’s turbulent state. Lyrically, the opener “White (Heartbreak On Hold)” captures all the bruised optimism of finding new love after a painful romantic ending; its sound, meanwhile, is all jaunty acoustic guitars and warm saxophone – a throwback, perhaps, to Lambchop’s most upbeat and beloved record, 1999′s Nixon.
Elsewhere, as on “A Case For Vinyl” (Burgess is a notorious vinyl junkie), there’s more a vibe of Lambchop’s 2002 album Is A Woman – the music is sparse to the point of emptiness and heavy with piano-resonating sadness. It was Wagner who corralled the studio band from the ‘Chop’s ranks and from Nashville session royalty: It features Chris Scruggs, the grandson of legendary bluegrass banjo-picker, Earl Scruggs.
As a whole, though, Oh No I Love You is an intriguing collision of country music, and Burgess’s more esoteric, Charlatans-incompatible interests. “Tobacco Fields” floats off on a note of funereal, ivory-chord melancholy, initially very Bill Callahan, but gradually elevates to a near-ecstatic mood vaguely reminiscent of David Bowie’s “Heroes,” complete with Eno- resembling synth melodrama.
This is an album where, very understatedly, miracles happen. Among the occasionally orchestrated Nashville grandeur, there are echoes, too, of post-punk trailblazing, with strange drum-machine programming from Factory Floor’s Gabe Gurnsey and Nik Colk Void (she is the relevant new flame in “Whiteâ€¦”). Then, at the last, “A Gain” presents an unexpected new development – a choir! – whose refrain, “I’ll not brave the depth’s floor for you (again)”, signals Burgess’s ultimate extrication, and self-reassertion.