From the opening piano-fuelled notes of The Charlatans UK new album, one thing comes to mind: they're baaaaaack! In recent years, the baggy favorites had gone in both a more soulful, falsetto-led direction (2001's Wonderland) and taken a downtempo, almost country-flavored slant (the still unavailable domestically Up At The Lake from 2004). But with Simpatico, the band have returned more to their roots, cranking up the guitars on album opener "Blackened Blue Eyes" in a nod to 1995's self-titled barnburner, as well as evoking the pianotastic hook bonanza that was Tellin' Stories. The guitars make other appearances on the album, as "Dead Man's Eye" is centered around a short but sweet hook from axeman Mark Collins, as is "When The Lights Go Down In London", which also features the band making like fellow Mancs New Order and incorporating a melodica. As is evidenced by the new instrumentation, this record is far more varied than works past. There are Wonderland-like soulful numbers such as "NYC (There's No Need To Sleep)", songs that are reggae-tinged like "City Of The Dead", ballads in the vein of "Glory Glory", and even chilled-out dub in the form of album closer "Sunset & Vine". The cohesive thread tying the entire record together is frontman Tim Burgess' distinctive vocal style; after 16+ years as leader of Charlatans UK, the man still has it. How many bands can you say that about these days? Precious few, but with a career as illustrious as theirs, Charlatans UK are in rarified air.