The Charlatans – The Charlatans (1995)
The Charlatans’ self-titled release, their fourth studio album, was the first long-player of theirs I bought. I was working in a music store at the time and they were selling cassette copies of it for just £3.99 which, with my massive staff discount of 25%, meant that I was getting a new album for just £2.99 and, given the poor state of my finances (thanks to the low wages of said music store), I would probably have bought nearly anything half-decent at that price. I’d heard a few tracks on the radio, so didn’t exactly buy it blind, but I didn’t expect it to be quite as good as it is. As an introduction to the band, it’s a rather great one, although there was a little discontent amongst some fans at the time who preferred their earlier material and sound. Personally, I think this is one of the best albums of the nineties, certainly of the Britpop era, and it is absolutely rammed full of brilliantly catchy songs, swirling Hammond organs, Stones-like swagger and some of the most inspired lyrics and compositions of their career. Eighteen years later, it still sounds absolutely magnificent.
There are highlights by the bucket-load here. Sultry instrumental opener “Nine Acre Court” kicks off the album excellently, before the exciting drum beat brings in “Feeling Holy” and the magic really starts to happen. “Just Lookin’” is one of the most commercial offerings, but it is also a beautifully crafted and arranged piece of work and “Crashin’ In” is the sound of a band firing on all cylinders, with some lovely guitar licks and melodic bass underpinning a superb song. “Bullet Comes” is one of my favourite cuts (amongst many favourites here) with the “stuck on the way you walk/hooked on the way you talk” hook, lots of fabulous organ licks and a nice piano riff which sounds like it was almost lifted from The Rolling Stones’ “We Love You”. The “live it like you love it” refrain is a great line, too. The gorgeously loose verses of “Just When You’re Thinking Things Over” provide a sublime contrast to the more powerful choruses, the divine guitar solo and bridge. In short, it’s nearly five minutes of indie-rock genius. The breezy “Tell Everyone” concludes my personal picks from this release and the quality does tail off a little towards the end of the album, but it’s still all good stuff and nothing could be considered “filler”.
It would be contentious to say that this is the band’s best album, but I believe that many fans would agree that it’s certainly up there amongst their finest work. Tim Burgess’ vocals have seldom sounded better than on these songs, all of the players are on top form and the whole album, even if they have sequenced the big songs at the front of it, is a thoroughly joyful experience. The musicianship on display here is phenomenal and the quality of songwriting make any resistance to this album futile. For the marketing marvel who decided to introduce the band to thousands of new fans by means of cheaply-priced cassettes, it definitely worked. I took a gamble on a band I didn’t know much about, ended up buying one of the best albums of the time and became a newly recruited Charlatans fan. Thank you.