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........In the Darwinian world of British
pop, most bands fall away to extinction, leaving only a successful few to swing
from the top of the musical food chain. Though their music is hardly predatory,
the Charlatans UK indeed are one England's fittest survivors. If you think
Britpop is dead, you're going to the wrong shows. Or maybe you just live in the
wrong country. Veteran shoegazers The Charlatans U.K, hit The Warfield on March
28th in San Francisco.
......The band's last three albums, Some
Friendly, The Charlatans, and Telling' Stories all reached the #1 spot, and if
the past truly is prologue, then their newest album, Us and Us Only, will
likely make them the only British rock band to have scored four U.K.
chart-toppers in the 90's... and that would make them inarguably the UK's band
of the decade. Now it's America's turn to discover the Charlatans. This is a
band who have triumphed over adversity to become stronger and better. Their
problems, including the death of founder member and keyboard player Rob Collins
two years ago, their troubles with their considerably dishonest accountant, and
singer Tim Burgess' decision to up sticks and head for Los Angeles half way
through the recording of their latest album.
.....The reason for the repetition of these
oft-churned-out facts is, of course, that they make up a fair point. Even
without their troubles, few who bought the Charlatans' Stone Roses-alike debut
album ten years ago would have bet on them still being around ten years later,
let alone as one of Britain's strongest and best guitar bands. Yet here they
are, releasing Us and Us Only, their sixth and possibly best album to date.
Part of the Charlatans' charm has always been that they know their niche, know
that they sell well, and never really alter their tried and tested blueprint
too much. So it proves here, with the familiar assault of Hammond organ,
melodic guitar, rumbling bass and Tim Burgess' just-about-in-tune vocals very
much in place. Indeed, were the band themselves not the authors of their former
single North Country Boy, they might have found themselves facing a sizeable
writ over A House Is Not A Home's considerable resemblance to the 1997 hit.
......However, to keep things interesting, Us
and Us Only does develop the band's sound somewhat, taking it to darker places
than the commercial, chorus-laden tunes of their previous album Telling'
Stories. The heavy, ominous bassline of recent single Forever sets the tone as
the album opener, and from there the music heads down more shadowy roads than
the band have previously explored. Good Witch, Bad Witch takes a tinkling
keyboard melody, but wraps it up in warped, distorted vocals, while the slower,
droney The Blind Stagger harks back to some of the band's earlier work. The
Blonde Waltz comes across in a haze of acoustic guitar and minor keys, while
album closer Watching You builds slowly without ever quite breaking out into
crashing crescendo that appears to be around the corner. Lyrically, it's much
the same as it has ever been. Tim Burgess has never really threatened to
out-perform Shakespeare on the sonnet front, and much of Us and Us Only
discusses the Charlatans' usual concerns of love and life and sunshine and
stuff. "The place you disappear to is the place I wish to be," sings
Burgess on Impossible, with all the preoccupation of a man who has just got
married, and just in case you were worried that he was about to start writing
Manic Street Preachers lyrics about the Spanish Civil War and New Labour.
...... Much the same as before in the
Charlatans' house, then, only with a few pieces of furniture slightly
rearranged. Of course, that's what you expect from one of their albums. Us and
Us Only is a record worth treasuring too, as Burgess' relocation to LA has
thrown the band's future into doubt. If we fail to hear from them again, it
will be a suitable final statement.
By Randy Cohen
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All photos and written material courtesy of Rock Publication
.Copyright © 2000
| 3/28/00 Warfield S.F,CA.
mellotron, organ, ..piano, backing vocals
.. Jon Brookes- drums
...Mark Collins- guitars