Search This Blog

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Charlatans: The Charlatans


1) Nine Acres Court; 2) Feeling Holy; 3) Just Lookin'; 4) Crashin' In; 5) Bullet Comes; 6) Here Comes A Soul Saver; 7) Just When You're Thinkin'; 8) Tell Everyone; 9) Toothache; 10) No Fiction; 11) See It Through; 12) Thank You.

The Internet always disappoints you. Here I was so proud of myself that I'd spotted the amazing fact — on this record, The Charlatans have been influenced not once, but twice by John Lennon, and not just by John Lennon, but specifically by John Lennon's fairly obscure solo song ʽBring On The Lucie (Freda People)ʼ from the Mind Games album: the verse melody was borrowed for ʽJust When You're Thinkin' Things Overʼ (including the very same line from one of the verses), and the bridge melody was borrowed for the bridge of ʽJust Lookin'ʼ. This is downright bizarre, isn't it? And hard to spot unless you're familiar with both The Charlatans and John's solo career... but apparently, I'm not the only one, since numerous mentions of this weird double rip-off can be easily found on the Web. (Not in S. Th. Erlewine's review of the album on The All-Music Guide, though, which reads as if he never once heard the record: "occasionally, the album relies too heavily on trippy dance instrumentals" — not only do the two parts of this sentence contradict each other, but there is only one instrumental on this album, so how can it rely on them too heavily?). Anyway, just goes to show how hard it is to make an original discovery in this modern world of ours. Well, perhaps nobody spotted so far that the line "it's a matter of taste, yeah!" on the very same ʽJust When You're Thinkin' Things Overʼ directly copies one of the lines from the Stones' ʽTorn And Frayedʼ. Let that be my bit of consolation.

You already get the gist of it, I think. On their self-titled fourth album, The Charlatans retread even farther from the contemporary dance scene — now, essentially, they are making traditional pop songs supported by modernized dance beats, not vice-versa. The only thing that survives through all the shifts is their penchant for syncopated funky riffs and rhythms: the absolute majo­rity of the songs here swing and swirl and wobble — no strict 4-4 beats for these guys. This is also the major source of the remaining problems: too many of the songs sound alike. For instance, that very instrumental opening the album, ʽNine Acre Courtʼ, is an enjoyable jam that spends half of the time in a duel between Blunt and Rob Collins and the other half of the time in a spaced-out na-na-na chant over distorted electric guitar (somewhat reminiscent of the style of The Brian Jonestown Massacre) — then, once it's gone, the vocal number ʽFeeling Holyʼ opens up with pretty much the exact same melody, and where precisely is the fun in that?

With ʽJust Lookin'ʼ, the album opens into the dimension of power-pop (and John Lennon rip-offs) which it, thankfully, never completely closes again — the only problem being that there is still too much emphasis on rhythm and not enough on melody: each of these songs will have you toe-tapping in no time, but there are no override-all seductive touches. I like it, really I do, how they combine groovy funky verses with all-out pop choruses — ʽBullet Comesʼ, for instance, sounds like the Stones' ʽHey Negritaʼ in the verse section, and then borrows some piano chords from the McCartney songbook for the chorus, then goes back again into dance mode. However, there is no personality to the instrumental work: even Rob Collins is subdued in the mix, while Mark Collins' guitars are almost buried below the bass level, just rumbling along monotonously instead of pushing forward like a properly aggressive beast. Likewise, ʽJust When You're Thinkin' Things Overʼ seems to do everything right, formally, but cannot compete with the songs it is inspired by, not least because Tim Burgess still cannot get me interested in his voice. Also, no offense, but I think all their lyrics suck: they sound as if they'd be supposed to make a lot of sense, but in all honesty, they do not. "I see you close down the windows / I see you burn down your throne... / You look good when your heart is on fire... / You don't follow the line find the sun" is just not some­thing I'd sing to my partner even if I wanted to befuddle her.

If there is one song here that sticks out a bit more than the rest, it would be ʽToothacheʼ — opening on a drilling guitar riff that agrees very well with the title, it is yet another funky groove, but this time, the boys manage to pack some sneeriness, some acid, and some aggression into the proceedings. Mark Collins always works well with slide guitars; Blunt's acoustic bass line gives the song a dark Morphine-like feel; the lengthy jam section is well dominated by Rob's organ work; and at times, the band descends into Zeppelin-style sonic hell (though in reality, this is more similar to the unjustly forgotten second album by The Stone Roses — the one where they traded in their happiness for bluesy gloom and ended up ridiculed by their own fans).

Still, I am willing to give the record a thumbs up. I come out of it remembering nothing but the bizarre Lennon rip-offs and the gnarly riff of ʽToothacheʼ, but they unquestionably have a classy sound going on here — a bit stiff, perhaps (which is only too typical of any Brit band from the Nineties), but an excellent combination of modern funk rhythms, acoustic and electric guitars, old-fashioned organ, and well-meaning singer guy all the same. They think they know what it means, really they do — they just can't explain.


  1. "the gnarly riff of ʽToothacheʼ"
    It's not surprising that you remember this one; it's very similar to the riff of Therapy's Unbeliever from the 1994 album Troublegum. That album is packed with memorable riffs and thus sold well.

  2. "Anyway, just goes to show how hard it is to make an original discovery in this modern world of ours."

    That, or people have simply had twenty-two years already to make that discovery.

  3. You mention the Stone Roses second album. As a 70s rock, funk, blues, you name it fan, I think it's quite a fun listen and very enjoyable. Don't Like their first album one bit though.

  4. Did you notice how 'Here Comes a Soul Saver' borrows it's guitar lick from Pink Floyd's 'Fearless'?

    While all of the connections you spotted are true, I really like to think about this album as of being _inspired_ by Lennon, McCartney and Rolling Stones. In contrast to, say, Tame Impala, which to my ears is _uninspired_ by relatively the same music.

    Charlatans circa 1995 conveyed the 70s rock to the 90s generation pretty well, I guess. They also added own valuable ideas (which then again might have been derived from house music but who cares). This was the first Charlatans' album, which I've heard like 13 years ago. Was keen on the singles, was 'meh' about its' other stuff then. Have to say the album's really grown on me. Quality work.

    1. Just remembered the album was releases on Beggar's Banquet label. How appropriate!