The Charlatans - Forever

Bill Cummings 03/11/2006

Rating: 3/5

It's fair to say that the Charlatans have been ploughing away for a fair old while (16 years to be precise). This isn't even the first greatest hits collection from the band (remember Melting Pot anyone?), but its the first to take in their recordings from the three different labels - Beggars Banquet, Island Records and Sanctuary. Beginning with the slightly dated proto-baggy of "Indian Rope" before wheeling out the big guns; the unmistable sound of "The Only One I Know" whose dabbing keys, Stone Roses-lite rhythm and open-armed chorus has filled dance floors every Friday night since its release.

While the gear shift of acoustic summery strummer "Just When You're Thinking Things Over" proves that the Charlatans weren't just a one trick pony, the tragic loss of early keyboardist Rob Collins in 1995 ironically coincided with the band's creative and commercial high water mark of the album "Telling stories" that's marked here by hits like "How High" and the gigantic "One To Another" which is still their finest moment, all burrowing guitars, tumbling keys, over which Burgess' vocal sneers and brags ("Come be my spiderwoman/I'll be your spiderman"). It's a shame, then, that so much of what else is here is a bit average really, the wheeling psychadelica of "Forever" and the Dylan-esque melodies of "My Beautiful Friend" hold up well on repeated listens, but there's a whole slew of tracks that will have you reaching for that skip button: Weirdo, Can't Get out of Bed, Try Again Today, to name but a few. Latter tracks seem too in thrall to their Americana influences to really stand apart, from the Byrds (Try Again Today) to Prince (Love is the Key), alot of this material lacks the really killer melody that inhabits their best work. But respect to the Charlies for constantly experimenting whithin a sometimes limiting genre, and you have to credit Tim Burgess and co for their sheer persistance. But their pallette often seems to lack something colourful or special, always on the brink of that big cross over success but never quite managing it, still a popular live prospect, but always one step behind a trend, never as hailed or apreciated as their peers (Stone Roses, Primal Scream, Oasis).

The Charlatans singles back catalogue as laid out in "Forever" is something that occassionally sparks, but leaves the lasting impression of workman-like tunesmithery, solid but often unspectacular, the Gary Neville rather than the Eric Cantona of UK indie