The Charlatans

Melting Pot (Beggars Banquet 98) Rating: B+

The Charlatans, also known as The Charlatans UK (at least here in the United States) due to legal issues with a former band of that name, were a good second tier band who never really made it to the big time, at least on these shores (they had quite a bit more success in their homeland). Make that are a good second tier band, 'cause these guys are survivors if nothing else, still cranking out albums long after many of their contemporaries flamed out, but more importantly they've delivered some fine tunes along the way. Their problem is that their early '90s stuff is prototypical "Madchester," and by that I mean that their songs are groovy, psychedelic, and danceable, with singer Tim Burgess' lightly airy vocals mixed back enough so as not to take center stage above the music. But if they were somewhat generic, that doesn't mean that they weren't good, and by most accounts they were at their best on their singles, so I ran right to this 17-track "best of," though in fairness I'll point out that I haven't heard their proper albums. Regardless, there's no denying the quality of songs such as "Then," "Opportunity Three," "Sproston Green," "Weirdo," and especially "The Only One I Know," the band's lone inarguable classic. What really made the band stand out was the swirling keyboards of Rob Collins, though after several of these dance oriented songs in a row it starts to seem like more of the same only not quite as good. Unfortunately, Collins died in a car crash in July, 1996, but The Charlatans gamely continued onward, with less emphasis on keyboards (which were still present as Collins was replaced by Martin Duffy and then Tony Rogers) as the band shifted away from the dancefloor and put the emphasis on rocking out. Moving the vocals and guitars up front, and adding a more obvious pop influence, The Charlatans basically became a Britpop band, only they still couldn't crack the top-tier, trailing Oasis, Blur, and others instead of The Stone Roses and Primal Scream. Which isn't to say that they weren't a good Britpop band; they were, and I heartily enjoy songs such as "Can't Get Out Of Bed," "I Never Want An Easy Life If Me And He Were Ever To Get There" (great song title), and "Jesus Hairdo," among others. Also, the timing of the switch to Britpop comes as a welcome relief when listening to this singles collection, because as previously mentioned by that time I was starting to get a bit bored, so the switch works for me, even if the band lost some of their identity in the process (the opening guitar line in "Just Lookin'" is stolen from The Beatles' "Lovely Rita" and vocally here and elsewhere Burgess sounds like Liam Gallagher). All in all, I'm not impressed enough by these guys that I feel a strong need to buy their proper albums, but I do respect that they're good at both of their signature styles, and I enjoy this compilation album when I listen to it.

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