Wednesday, January 17, 2024

CD Odyssey Disc 1705: The Charlatans

This next album is one of the first in what no doubt will be a series of “albums Sheila found for me while thrifting”. Sheila has been an ace thrifter for years (you can read her awesome fashion blog here). Recently she’s taken up a bit of whimsical thrifting for me in the bargain CD rack. They usually cost only a dollar, so even when it is a miss, the outlay is minimal.

The exploration is good fun and I am loving it, but don’t expect a review of everything that comes home. To make it to the blog, they need to be worth a full three listens minimum. This next band succeeded in clearing the bar, so here you go.

Disc 1705 is…Tellin’ Stories EP

Artist: The Charlatans

Year of Release: 1997

What’s up with the Cover? A pretty woman sitting on a chair which is artfully placed to ensure this blog entry remains safe for decent reg’lar folks. This cover is considerably superior to the full album version, which features the four giant heads of the band.

According to the interwebs, the pretty woman in question is Christine Keeler, who was famous for her involvement in the Profumo Affair scandal of 1960s England. This makes the title of the album that much more appropriate.

How I Came To Know It: Sheila bought me this from a thrift shop in a small BC town called Powell River. Who owned it before me? We shall never know, dear reader.

How It Stacks Up: This is my only Charlatans album, so it can’t stack up.

Rating: 2 stars

My biggest challenge with rock music from this era is the overly rich production, and “Tellin’ Stories” has this in spades. There is a lot going on, with guitar and organ both working away diligently on the melody. The arrangement of the instruments is complementary, but they are by no means taking turns – they’re going at the same time, and finding windows between the notes to call and answer.

This is intentional, and very much a feature of the sound. This era of British rock has a fair bit of this sound, which is saturated with a bit of prog-adjacent groove. It’s better for driving than dancing, with a restless “go forth!” quality that propels each track forward.

I don't have a lot of this type of music in my collection, and while I'd like to say it reminds me a bit of Oasis and a bit of Blur, the truth is I don't know very much about either of those bands. There was a stretch where I thought I heard vestiges of the Canadian band Grapes of Wrath but mostly because the vocals of Charlatan’s Tim Burgess has that same high airy quality of the Grapes of Wrath’s harmonies. On the lighter production of “Keep it to Yourself” he even has the same jangle of the Canadian band, but most of the time it is British alt-pop not Canadian folk-rock.

All the tunes on the Tellin’ Stories EP have an urgent, even frantic crosstown traffic quality to them. The music feels very urban, crossing over itself with the same seamless flow of a busy downtown intersection. Nobody trips on anyone else, and everyone in the band knows where they’re going, but I found a bit crowded nonetheless. Maybe it just the country boy in me, but I longed for just a little more elbow room, musically speaking.

There is a part of me that thinks if I had the full album I might better immerse myself in the experience, but with only four songs and 17 minutes of music it was over while I was still trying to wrap my head around it. I can see why this band is well-loved, but it just wasn’t for me, at least in such a limited listening opportunity.

Best tracks: Tellin’Stories

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