Charlatans UK - more than just a pretty face
The Charlatans UK
Dead Dead Good/Situation Two/Beggars Banquet
By SANDE CHEN
OVER THE PAST YEAR, the music press has spent inordinate amounts of space on the Charlatans UK, on how pretty singer/songwriter Tim Burgess is, on how boys and girls alike will fall for him, but the truth is that this oft-mentioned band has more than just a pretty face. Their organ-driven currents have been loading up the charts since their debut in late 1989.
Their debut single, "Indian Rope," the second song they ever wrote together, features those swirly organs and that indispensable voice, and was released on their own Dead Dead Good label in the United Kingdom. It shot right to number one on the UK indies chart and sold more than 25,000 copies, rather more than the 100 originally anticipated.
"The Only One I Know" followed, climbing to the Top Ten in three weeks, eventually landing the number five position on UK national charts and number one on UK indie singles. The next single, "Then," hit number 12 in September 1990, and repeated the success of "The Only One I Know" by selling more than 100,000 copies.
Meanwhile in October, Some Friendly -- their debut album -- entered UK charts at number one, surpassing even Manchester giants Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses, and went gold in three days. The Charlatans' current single, "Over Rising," despite its "radio-unfriendly" tag, pierced in last month at number two on UK indie singles and number 18 on the UK national charts. In the States, tours have sold out, and response to the new album has been equally overwhelming.
Although the Charlatans UK have been lumped together with the likes of Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets, and the Stone Roses as part of the so-called "Manchester scene," the Charlatans UK are not from Manchester, England. Tim compares the current Manchester fascination with the early 1980s Liverpool scene when groups like Teardrop Explodes and Echo and the Bunnymen were classified as one.
Rather, the Charlatans hail from the Midlands. The core of the band comes from Wolverhampton, and Tim, although he was born in Manchester, grew up in
the small town of Northwich in Cheshire County, and spent most of his time in record stores. The current line-up didn't form until after the Charlatans toured with the Stone Roses with original vocalist Baz Kettley. After watching Tim Burgess' band, the Electric Crayons, open for them at a gig in Northwich, the Charlatans got manager Steve Harrison, owner of Omega Records in Northwich, to convince Tim to join their group and they ditched Baz. Since then, the grooves have been pumping and sales have been rocketing. The group is now based in Northwich.
Although the Stone Roses made a lasting impression on them, the Charlatans UK insist that they didn't just jump on the bandwagon. However, if comparisons warrant, the Charlatans sound a bit like Northside, but with more organ sounds. In fact, the Charlatans were originally formed just so keyboardist Rob Collins could play around with his Hammond organ. The Charlatans UK, Northside, World of Twist and Paris Angels are sometimes considered to be at the forefront of "the second wave from Manchester."
Like R.E.M.'s Murmur, Tim Burgess' first favorite album, the vocals on Some Friendly are mixed low and the lyrics are often unclear. He dislikes explaining song lyrics and would rather people figure them out on their own. This had led to much speculation on the song meanings. Ac
cording to Melody Maker, "You're Not Very Well" is a directed attack towards people who love to analyze.
Reportedly, the rueful "Opportunity" was inspired when Tim happened to be wandering around during the London anti-poll tax riot last summer and he thought, "Wow, wouldn't this be a great time to steal something?" In the end, he broke a window. This story sounds pretty in line with the lyrics: "Going round round round this sensation I've found," or "Stranger ignoring the chaos." Or it could be about windmills, as Tim has hinted.
"Polar Bear," with its enigmatic line "Looking for the orange ones," has been taken to be about a certain type of candy, polar bears, but more likely, it's about a girl who "doesn't know what day it is/Freezing to death with no clothes on." "Polar Bear" is really a cool tune and has its own distinctive polar bear wails.
"You're Not Very Well" is a clear winner. However, when the band slows down the pace before Tim's last entrance near the end, it sounds like a mistake. The actual acceleration is minimal and not unusual in recordings, but the slow-down is very noticeable.
"109 pt2," the instrumental, sounds like a mixture of "Then" and "Flower." "Flower," the Charlatans' first endeavor together, is slow and solemn and most people interpret it to be a death threat. "If you're that sort of person," Tim has said, "I'm
sure people could easily hang [themselves] to `Flower.' " More danceable tracks are "You're Not Very Well," "Sonic" and "Believe You Me."
The ever-familiar "The Only One I Know" is a nice love song ("Everyone's been burned before/Everybody knows the pain"). "White Shirt" seems like a typi
cal dead grandmother song, but probably isn't. "Sproston Green" -- "the best song of the Charlatans," according to Tim -- is supposedly about Tim's first sexual experience. He's 22.
Although Tim venerates acid house as the major awakening in his life, he has been quite a darling of the New York new music scene (his favorite groups have been The Clash, Iggy Pop and New Order). His mopey looks and anti-commercial attitudes are enhanced by being generally well-versed on what to say -- "The 80s were just dull and boring," or "England's been on a massive decline for ages. Who cares?" -- or by sprouting amusing vague comments -- "I wasn't involved in punk music. . . . I still thought I was a punk and bought a couple of Vibrators records." At age 10, he traded his skateboard for a 12-inch remix of Echo and the Bunnymen's "Rescue." What could be more scene?
As for the Charlatans, they plan to be at their peak five years from now but, in the meantime, their second album is tentatively scheduled to be released in October 1991.