Whether you are a fan of the Charlatans UK or not, after listening to I Believe you will be bestowed with the knowledge that front man Tim Burgess is a much happier human being than you are. I mean, he literally sounds like he’s busting with joy on this, his solo debut. Cut in Los Angeles while his day band was on hiatus, I Believe finds Burgess stepping out into seemingly uncharted waters (Soul! Soul! Soul!), and the majority of this debut sounds nothing like the Charlatans. In bits this is all quite intoxicating, but over 14 tracks it is this sentiment and the record’s soft-rock sound and saccharine, MOR production that begin to grate rather than uplift. Primal Scream’s Give Out But Don’t Give Up and most of Richard Ashcroft’s solo work comes to mind if you’re looking for comparisons.
I Believe storms out of the gate convincingly with “I Believe In the Spirit”, which features, handclaps, cowbell, some jazzy saxophone reminiscent of Bobby Keys’s contribution to the Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” and features lyrics that declare Burgess’ West Coast frame of mind: “I believe in California soul / I believe in everlasting love / Ain’t no emotional voice here for the choir / I know my faith will turn the flame into the fire”.
Following shortly thereafter is the jaunty “Only a Boy”, which sounds like Marvin Gaye, Prince, and Terence Trent Darby (that’s right) in a head-on musical collision. It has Burgess using the sprightly falsetto he discovered recently with the Charlatans, while getting on about the innocence of youth and love. “Only a Boy” was released as a single back in the UK and is probably the root of what Burgess is trying to achieve here. Elsewhere, songs such as “Say Yes” and “Oh My Corazon” are of a similar bent, all polished for radio consumption. “Oh My Corazon” is probably the best thing on I Believe, featuring great percussive guitar, a sing-a-long chorus, and a few electronic bleeps and blips.
But the rest well, you can hear Burgess battling hard with his ’60s and ’70s American influences, hell-bent on giving them a fresh new spin, and adhering to his newfound romantic outlook. He wins with songs such as “We All Need Love” and “Be My Baby”, but he loses on songs such as “Years Ago”, which is Dylan pastiche, and his stab at Bob Marley’s “Who the Cap Fit” is either mildly amusing or atrocious, depending on your mood. The rest of the tracks fall into a holding pattern of neither good nor bad, just an artist making a record that sounds like most of his antiquated desert island discs. This may be something that is invigorating to an artist, but for the fan it screams of novelty and the buy-back bin. (It might be interesting to note that the US version contains three bonus tracks. This is a common occurrence with initial imports receiving belated stateside release, but it hurts this record, as the US version of I Believe feels far too long.)
Overall, I Believe is a fun, breezy, summertime record that, as a whole, is unconvincing. Indie stalwart Tim Burgess reborn as a black soul singer? Maybe, but it’s a little difficult to swallow, no matter how sunny the retro-vibe may be.