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Friday, June 9, 2017

The Charlatans: Up To Our Hips

THE CHARLATANS: UP TO OUR HIPS (1994)

1) Come In Number 21; 2) I Never Want An Easy Life If Me And He Were To Get There; 3) Can't Get Out Of Bed; 4) Feel Flows; 5) Autograph; 6) Jesus Hairdo; 7) Up To Our Hips; 8) Patrol; 9) Another Rider Up In Flames; 10) Inside Looking Out.

Here is where the band begins, very slowly, climbing out of the Madchester idiom, which had pretty much played out its potential by the mid-Nineties. The funky dance grooves are still the default way of life for the band, but they are not nearly as all-pervasive now, and the band finds itself more free to experiment with various styles of pop, rock, and R&B. Lending a hand is pro­ducer Steve Hillage, the former guitar wizard of Gong — of course, it would be silly to think that he would actively push them towards a «neo-progressive» choice of action, but still, the transition from Flood to Hillage is quite symbolic.

Arguably the most innovative track here is the lengthy instrumental ʽFeel Flowsʼ. Announced by a viciously cymbal-drenched, crash-boom-bang drum pattern from Jon Brookes, the guy who had previously sat in the rhythmic shadows, it feels closer to a psychedelic funky workout from the early 1970s (with an extra bit of industrial flavor) than to anything «modern» — the whole track feels like a lengthy, cool, calm con­versation between a council of electric toads, represented by the acid, distorted tones of Rob Collins' key­boards and Mark Collins' guitars. It is far darker and heavier than anything they did before, though not exactly a radical departure from the foundations of The Charlatans' sound (funky, ominous, and slightly psychedelic).

In sharp contrast, the first single, ʽCan't Get Out Of Bedʼ, is a bona fide power pop number, with the keyboards taking second place to colorful guitars and anthemic choruses; the problem is that the song's melody and the song's message are way too indirect and confusing to give you a direct emotional jolt: a mixture of happy-sad where neither component is truly overwhelming. It did manage to be more commercially successful than the second single (ʽI Never Want...ʼ), perhaps because it went back to laying on the funk without much care for the hooks; actually, the design of the chorus is curious — the sneering song title echoes Lennon's "I am he as you are he..." a little bit, while the countering vocal asks you "how does it feel?" in a Dylan-ish manner — but with Burgess' tired intonations, this song, at best, triggers intellectual, not spiritual associations with walruses and rolling stones.

The third and last single bore the mildly provocative title ʽJesus Hairdoʼ and tried its best to combine the funky dance groove with a pop chorus, but again, it's nice and listenable and not very impressive, because what exactly is that "and you shine like a star, and you shine like a genius" chorus supposed to mean? They wobble somewhere between optimism and irony, stum­bling with fairly bad lyrics ("and it's hard to know reality when you don't have a life" strives so hard to be profound that this makes its banality even more disgusting) and placing all the musical emphasis on distorted slide guitars, but they have neither a George Harrison nor a Rory Gallagher in the band to make them work. Listenable and forgettable.

The best songs on the album, therefore, are not the singles — besides the already mentioned ʽFeel Flowsʼ, it is the title track, saved by a particularly savage Collins organ riff, and ʽPatrolʼ (which should rather be known as "mess up my mind, mess up my mind"), where, once again, they slow down the tempo to stabilize and deepen a fairly evil funk groove. Essentially, they come closest to succeeding when they do not try to outbalance their dark side with brighter elements, but when they embrace the dark side fully (or, at least, as fully as possible before happy dance people stop buying their records altogether). On the whole, though, Up To Our Hips sounds like a transi­tional album with a lack of focus — something that a great band could have turned to their ad­vantage, but a merely decent band like The Charlatans should have never allowed themselves.

2 comments:

  1. Cool Water a couple days ago. "Feel Flows" now. Who knows what silver-age Beach Boys allusions lie ahead?

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  2. The Chameleons would be a good add to your "C" category

    ReplyDelete