Monday, July 31, 2006

"Most of the time you are happy -- you're a weirdo"

The Charlatans UK

Summary: For organ-based pop/rock and well-crafted excellence, the resolute and stalwart Charlatans UK are the way to go. They have many times resided in my top 5.

A Brief History of the Band (from Yahoo! Music): For many years, the Charlatans UK were perceived as the also-rans of Madchester, the group that didn't capture the zeitgeist like the Stone Roses or the band that failed to match the mad genre-bending of the Happy Mondays. Of course, they were more traditional than either of their peers. Working from a Stonesy foundation, the Charlatans added dance-oriented rhythms and layers of swirling organs straight out of '60s psychedelia. At first, the Charlatans had great promise, and their initial singles -- including "The Only One I Know" -- were hits, but as Madchester and "baggy" faded away, the group began to look like a relic. It was commonly assumed that their third album, 1994's Up to Our Hips, was the end of the line. However, the Charlatans made a remarkable comeback in 1995 with their eponymous fourth album, which found them embracing not only the flourishing Britpop movement, but also underground dance and techno, as well as their mainstay of classic rock. The Charlatans UK debuted at number one, and the group was hailed as survivors. Unfortunately, few knew how literal that term was -- as the band was recording its follow-up album in 1996, organist Rob Collins, who had defined the band's sound, died in a car crash. The Charlatans decided to continue as a quartet, and their subsequent album, Tellin' Stories, debuted at number one upon its 1997 release, suggesting that they had become one of the great British journeyman bands of the '90s. (Read more history.)

My History with the Band: It is becoming the broken record story of my music posts, but of course I discovered The Charlatans UK in high school, through the show 120 Minutes on MTV. I saw their first video, for the song "The Only One I Know," and I sat entralled by the sound. The driving beat, the powerful bass (especially the bass break at minute 2:45!), the bouncy melody, Tim Burgess's interesting vocals -- I loved it all. But what made this sound unique was the organ, and the organ is indeed the signature of the Charlatans sound. Check out the video here to hear the tune. (The video is nothing special, but the song . . . oh, the song.) Anyway, of course I bought the album, Some Friendly, and it joined my ever broadening playlist of alternative music. I loved the entire album, but my favorite song was "Sproston Green," a song which to this day makes me extraordinarily happy.

So college came around and the Charlatans' sophomore album came out, and lo! This is one of those instances when the second album is actually better than the first. Between 10th & 11th is my favorite album by the Charlatans, and is in fact one of my favorite albums by anyone. The entire album is brilliant, dark, moody, beat-filled, and quite varied in the sound. From the electric groove of "I Don't Want to See the Sights" (see the video) to the experimental "Subtitle" to the sublime "Tremelo Song," this album stands out in my collection. One of the highlights of the album is the understated "Can't Even Be Bothered," with its bizarre lyrics:

I can see a rainbow coming out of your hole
You're God, although I never knew a prophet
I can see a rainbow coming out of your hole

But the true centerpiece of the genius on Between 10th & 11th is their biggest single, "Weirdo." The opening organ gets me every time, and I love dancing to this tune. And I love it when a song has a brief little one or two second snippet that makes you say, "That is so cool." Well, on "Weirdo," there is an instant of organ solo about 2:13 into the song that I used to have to rewind 5 or 6 times everytime I listened to the song. Check out the video for "Weirdo" in Version 1 or Version 2. Incidentally, this song also reminds me of my friend Jake because I put it on a mix cd for him, and when Tim sang the word "Look at your ugly shame," Jake always thought that he was saying "Look at your oblichet (or oblishay)" and Jake thought it was some French word he did not know.

The follow up album, Up to Our Hips, was a bit of a disappointment to me. It was a bit too mellow and moody, with less of the signature sound. But this album does have my absolute favorite Charlatans song, the beautifully-titled "Jesus Hairdo." This song is a miracle.

But the band came back to life with the next album, which was self-titled. The album starts off with a bizarre instrumental song, "Nine Acre Court," and then the rest of the album is a kind of Stone Roses-esque exploration of guitar/organ pop-rock. Two amazing songs come from this album: the delectable "Just Lookin'" (see the video), and the strummy wonderfulness of "Tell Everyone."

Tragedy struck the band when they were recording their next album. Rob Collins, the keyboardist and provider of the signature sound, was killed in a car accident. The band almost broke up, but came back with Telling Stories, which I find to be an excellent album. Of course the sound is different, since one of the key contributors was gone, but the album has an emotional core that is more resonant than in previous albums, and "North Country Boy" is a truly great song.

When they toured with this album in 1997, I got to see them in Chicago. My friend Kathy and I went to the historic Vic Theatre, and the band put on a great show. Tim was an energetic frontman, and they played almost every one of my favorite songs. As I think through concerts that I have seen, I am exceedingly glad that I got to see this band, one of my favorites.

Side note: I have previously mentioned Tim Burgess because he provides the vocals on two blogged-about songs, "I Was Born on Christmas Day" by Saint Etienne, and "Life is Sweet" by The Chemical Brothers (see the video).

The Charlatans UK continue to make great music, and they have stood the test of time. I can always return to their music, and I am always excited by their sound.

Favorite Charlatans Album:
Between 10th & 11th

Favorite Charlatans Song: "Jesus Hairdo" and "Weirdo"

Other Seminal Charlatans Songs: "You're Not Very Well"; "Then"; "White Shirt"; "The Only One I Know"; "Polar Bear"; "Sproston Green"; "I Don't Want to See the Sights"; "Tremelo Song"; "Subtitle"; "Can't Even Be Bothered"; "Chewing Gum Weekend"; "Can't Get Out of Bed"; "Up to Our Hips"; "Nine Acre Court"; "Just Lookin'"; "Here Comes a Soul Saver"; "Tell Everyone"; "With No Shoes"; "North Country Boy"; "How Can You Leave Us"; "How High"

Past Band Posts: New Order / The Smiths / Belle and Sebastian / Underworld / R.E.M. / The Beatles / The Boo Radleys / Saint Etienne/ Depeche Mode / The Chemical Brothers / The Pogues

(By the way, I was excited to include links to videos in this post.)


Post a Comment

<< Home