Friday 21 May 2021

The CHARLATANS: The Charlatans


(#534: 9 September 1995, 1 week)


Track listing: Nine Acre Court/Feeling Holy/Just Lookin’/Crashin’ In/Bullet Comes/Here Comes A Soul Saver/Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Over/Tell Everyone/Toothache/No Fiction/See It Through/Thank You


In that singles chart of August 1995 – you know the one, the arena for that “historic” chart “battle” – bringing up the humble rear at number 12 was “Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Over.” It’s always the way, isn’t it; you make your plans and some flash, smarmy gits veer up on the outside lane and swiftly overtake (at the time I was secretly hoping that The Original’s “I Luv U Baby” would outsell both of those “classic pop singles” and become a real party-pooper).


By far the most interesting moment on the third Charlatans album is the first one, or at least the first bit of the first one; a tape recording of the Jesus Army singing and tambourining their thing at Oxford Circus, a bus pulls up and the music almost instantly kicks into a lethal groove. “Nine Acre Court” is a word-free world-indie-dance chant in the Transglobal Underground mode, and the high-pitched voice you hear throughout it is not that of Tim Burgess, but of the drummer Jon Brookes.


It is probably entirely characteristic that the best (and, typically, least typical) track on this album is one of two (the bookending “Thank You” is the other) which do not involve Burgess at all. I suspect that his main contribution to the gaiety of the world is going to be remembered as his ongoing Tim’s Listening Party set-up, which in the enforced absence of live performances helped many music lovers get through the pandemic, and I am sure that he is a fine human being in many ways.


But the central problem with The Charlatans here is the same one which Lena previously identified; a group too ensnared by rock history to transcend it, who are, as she says, perfectly content to paddle around in the paddling pools of “heritage” rather than try to take the story forward (or even interestingly sideways). This is really unexceptional meat-and-potatoes indie-rock, as a look at the song titles alone will tell you – “Lookin’,” “Crashin’,” “Thinkin’,” all tethered inoperatively to received notions of Rock History (as is the record's ghastly retro-nuevo cover).


The band stuff themselves with far too much suffocating respect for the record-collecting past when they should be seeking to blow it apart and afresh. Imagine fifty or so minutes of the actual Primal Scream moments on Screamadelica and you’ll get the stolid idea; drearily loping rhythms which imagine themselves to be The Faces or maybe (given the keyboard element) Little Feat, and Burgess’ unbearable post-Gillespie whine – on “Just Lookin’,” he sounds as though he’s trolling Liam Gallagher.


“Toothache” is a would-be epic guitar/organ workout described by one seemingly semi-literate chronicler as being “driven along by filthy blues supplied by the hot, wired [Rob] Collins (a particularly inapt metaphor, given the eventual fate of the hapless organist), crashing the songs (sic) with powerful riffing alternated (sic) with catchy as fuck (sic) guitar riffs.” It is actually five-and-a-quarter minutes of Racey pretending to be the Jimi Hendrix Experience.


Ultimately The Charlatans gets in the way rather than carving a way out. And I have been far harder on them than on Boyzone because they, and their misled adherents, think they’re far, far better. And I would have much rather written in this space about Goldie’s monumental Timeless, but that came out in the same week as the Black Grape album and only peaked at number seven. You’ll have to pay me if you want that written up.