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The Charlatans - Forever: The Singles

The Charlatans: Forever - The Singles

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

IT’S easy to forget that The Charlatans command a special place in music history, especially since recent albums have failed to perform as impressively as they might in commercial terms.

But Tim Burgess and co were at the forefront of the indie scene in the 90s and have consistently contributed some terrific music to the genre, whether it has been embraced by the masses or not.

Having released their latest album, Simpatico, earlier this year, they look to end 2006 on a high with the release of their career retrospective, Forever: The Singles.

Featuring 18 tracks, the album chronicles some of the band’s greatest moments, from their breakthrough hit Indian Rope in 1990 (which now appears on an album for the first time) through hits such as North Country Boy, The Only One I Know, Impossible and, most recently, Blackened Blue Eyes.

The ensuing collection provides a wonderful nostalgia trip that is certain to evoke some terrific memories (it certainly did for me!).

Who can forget the early, organ-driven hit The Only One I Know (a regular feature of any indie club night), which borrowed its distinct hook from Deep Purple’s Hush, or the adrenaline rush of How High, with its screaming organs and chant-along chorus (a perennial live favourite).

Ironically, The Charlatans are a band worthy of much more admiration than a lot of their peers from the Madchester era. For while the likes of The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays internally combusted due to a combination of egos and hedonistic excess, The Charlatans soldiered on through a much more tragic chapter in their history – namely, the death of organist Rob Collins, who perished in a car crash in Wales in July 1996.

Rather than disappear, however, the band completed the recording of 1997’s Tellin’ Stories, which provided them with one of the most critically-acclaimed hits of their career. It also marked a transformation, as the sound of the band became much more dependent on gutars than organs.

The legacy of Collins has never been forgotten in their music, however, and Tellin’ Stories even ended with the poignant track, Rob’s Theme. But along the way, it provided Burgess and co with some of their most seminal hits, such as Tellin’ Stories (magnificent), North Country Boy (psychedelic and bluesy in a Rolling Stones kind of way), One To Another (with the fabled lyric, “if you be my spider-woman, I’ll be your spider-man”) and How High.

The band seemed to go from strength to strength with their next album, 1999’s Us & Us Only, which gave rise to such tracks as Impossible and My Beautiful Friend, both present here.

Evidence of the band’s ability to change style and experiment is also evident on Love Is The Key and A Man Needs To Be Told, two tracks from the criminally-underrated album Wonderland, which found Burgess adopting a falsetto style that’s since been maligned.

That album was incredibly mature and much, much better than a lot of critics gave them credit for – it’s the sort of effort that gets better with time and which may well be viewed as a career highlight in years to come (just try listening to non-released tracks like And If I Fall as examples of what we mean).

Perhaps defiantly, they have chosen to re-release one of the singles from that album, You’re So Pretty, We’re So Pretty, as the supporting single for this compilation – a cheeky, two-fingered salute to an overlooked gem.

The need for commercial hits, however, meant that the falsetto was largely dropped for Up At The Lake but, again, The Charlatans continued to impress with the quality and emotional depth of their music. In fact, one of the tracks, Loving You Is Easy has become something of a wedding anthem for the thirty-something generation that has grown up with their sound.

Sadly, it’s not present here (despite being released as a single), although two further tracks from that album Up At The Lake and Try Again Today, provide further highlights of the compilation.

If this year’s Simpatico wasn’t the success many had hoped, it shows plenty of continued ambition and marked a limited success, while hinting at plenty more to come. Let’s hope so, for The Charlatans are one of the best British bands of recent years and this singles collection provides many delightful reminders of why.

You’ll have fun re-discovering what made them so great.

The album is released on two formats, including a special 2-disc version that includes session versions of some of their earliest tracks (recorded for John Peel and Mark Radcliffe), as well as demos of Feel The Pressure and Wave The World Goodbye.

Like we said, essential.

Editor’s note: For the ultra-sceptical among you, it’s worth noting that an earlier compilation Melting Pot only includes six of the tracks featured here. So there’s no reason for refusing to buy it.

Track listing:
Disc One

  1. Indian Rope
  2. The Only One I Know
  3. Weirdo
  4. Can’t Get Out Of Bed
  5. Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Over
  6. One To Another
  7. North Country Boy
  8. How High
  9. Tellin’ Stories
  10. Forever
  11. My Beautiful Friend
  12. Impossible
  13. Love Is The Key
  14. A Man Needs To Be Told
  15. Up At The Lake
  16. Try Again Today
  17. Blackened Blue Eyes
  18. You’re So Pretty, We’re So Pretty

Disc Two

  1. Always In Mind [John Peel Session 20/03/90]
  2. Polar Bear [John Peel Session 20/03/90]
  3. Between 10th And 11th [John Peel Session 22/01/91]
  4. (No One) Not Even The Rain [Mark Goodier Session 05/10/91]
  5. Autograph [Mark Radcliffe Session 07/07/94]
  6. Up To Our Hips [Evening Session 09/03/94]
  7. Another Rider Up In Flames [Evening Session 09/03/94]
  8. Crashin’ In [Mark Radcliffe Session 31/07/95]
  9. A Man Needs To Be Told [Jo Wiley Session 18/11/01]

Demos

  1. Feel The Pressure
  2. Wave The World Goodbye
  3. See How Clear It Is
  4. Try Again Today