Notably more so than on his previous solo albums, the permeating feeling on Tim Burgess’ fifth, I Love The New Sky, is one of community. That such a record drops in the middle of our current shared isolation, during which The Charlatans’ frontman has risen to the occasion in a way that suits him to a T, could hardly be more on point.
How much can it really mean to simply put on an LP or CD at home and spend the evening with a phone in one hand and a drink in the other? A good deal to a good many people, as it turns out. The Tim’s Twitter Listening Party series has been an unexpected and genuine pleasure to take part in through these months of social distancing (go ‘replay’ the Oasis entries with Bonehead’s and Brian Cannon’s commentary and photos if you missed them). This isn’t even the first time that Burgess has extracted purpose from frivolity via Twitter, as the social media site was also where his idea for Tim Peaks coffee germinated. As with the listening parties, his affinity for strolling record shop aisles and determination to keep a positive outlook also carry over into I Love The New Sky.
Burgess wrote these twelve songs alone on acoustic guitar, yet for being a guitar-built album it is the piano, played by Daniel O’Sullivan of Grumbling Fur (and other groups), that comes to the fore on many of these tracks. This trait, in combination with other touches such as the lovely folk violin on “Empathy for the Devil” (played by Peter Broderick) and shifting configurations of backing vocalists (including a child sweetly joining in for the lines “Life is a mystery/Weighed down by history/Just waiting here patiently” on “Only Took A Year”), projects the sense of a familiar collective gathered around in song together.
The atmosphere across I Love The New Sky is warm and almost informal, though the playing is focused and the arrangements of some songs, “Comme D’Habitude” and “The Mall” in particular, venture a kind of prog-musical-theater complexity. By their nature, solo albums seem to invite the listener to read the songwriter’s life between the lines, but while Burgess does fit both his fondness for smoothies and The Cure’s Pornography into one song (“Only Took A Year”), that doesn’t quite sound like him on the eponymous “Timothy” claiming that “I can count all my friends on one hand/Two of them are in punk bands.../One of them lives in Japan.” From the Devil to “Laurie,” there is a cast of characters in this play.
Burgess’ omnivorous pop palate leads the music through baroque flourishes, residual California vibes, and a laser battle reminiscent of Joy Division’s “Insight” in the sunny swell of “Warhol Me,” with equal aplomb. It is a kinder, gentler rock and roll, perhaps, envisioned by someone who is convinced that “the future is friendly.” I Love The New Sky is not without its break-ups, loneliness and loss, but it’s the unflaggingly optimistic sentiments - the promise on “I Got This” that “I’ll be the one who walks you through the darkness,” or the parting words of “Laurie” that “It doesn’t matter where you’re going, baby/All that is important is that you’re still dreaming” - which linger on stage after the music stops.