The Charlatans UK have always been one of those bands "on the verge."
They've hung in there through UK music trends ranging from shoegazing and
neo-psychedelia to Brit-pop, trip-hop and jungle; they've weathered all
manner of problems, from crime to nervous collapse to death (keyboardist
That alone makes the Charlatans great press, but the more urgent problem
has been the band's inability to make music as consistently interesting
as is their bio. With the release of Us and Us Only, however, the
latter difficulty looks to have been rectified.
At long last, pouty Jagger-meister vocalist Tim Burgess and company have
fashioned a record that finds them emulating, as opposed to imitating,
their major influences: the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, as well as
Charlatans contemporaries the Stone Roses. As a matter of fact, Us and
Us Only is what the Roses' Second Coming (1995) would have
sounded like if guitarist John Squire had decided to lean on classic
Stones, Dylan and Pink Floyd, rather than the more excessive moments of
Thus we have the album's opener, "Forever" (RealAudio
excerpt), which melds a nifty bit of Dylan-esque sentiment (Burgess,
evoking Bob's "Tangled Up in Blue," muses, " I wonder what you people do
with your lives" lyrical cops from the Stones' "Coming Down Again"
and "Sweet Black Angel" also pop up) with music that morphs from
Meddle-era (1971) Pink Floyd and the Charlatans' touchstone, the
Rolling Stones' Exile on Main St. (1972).
Burgess has always been both the Charlatans' biggest asset, with his
"Younger Mick" looks and leonine stage moves and its biggest
liability, with a voice that, like Ian Brown's, has expressive limitations.
While he certainly doesn't possess Jagger's ability to plain raunch
out, Burgess seems determined to stretch, and the effort pays off
here, as on the Dylan-esque ballad "The Blonde Waltz" (RealAudio
excerpt), the tale of a loser trying to justify his failure in
life to his son.
While he previously sounded, at times, unsure of himself, the singer now
exudes confidence and he challenges the band to match his intensity,
which it does with consummate ease. Listening to Burgess' stinging blues
harp and new keyboardist Tony Rogers' wheezing organ and Nicky
Hopkinsstyled piano licks on "Impossible," the listener can imagine
he or she is eavesdropping on some long-lost basement-tape jams between
Dylan and the Stones.
The album's most sublime moment, however, is "My Beautiful Friend" (RealAudio
excerpt), a winding slice of timeless, transporting, syncopated
psychedelic pop that recalls such previous Charlatans high-water marks
as "Weirdo" and "Sproston Green." Such moments in the past always hinted
at a greatness lurking within this band that has just as often seemed an
empty promise. On Us and Us Only, however, the Charlatans finally
make good on that 10-plus-year tease: At long last, and after much travail,
they've finally reached the top of the rock mountain. Who'da thunk it?