Friendly neighbors of the Stone Roses/Happy Mondays rave-pop scene, this young quintet from Northwich (equidistant from Manchester and Liverpool) used Hammond organ, an evocative echo chamber and the neo-psychedelic fad’s maddening drum beat to effectively flavor tuneful ’60s-styled numbers. Not as lame as Inspiral Carpets or as danceably ambitious as Happy Mondays, the Charlatans kept things simple, assuring maximum chart potential with a light, unchallenging approach. Equipped with Tim Burgess’ appealing voice and Rob Collins’ varied organ work, the Charlatans had the tools for major flavor-of-the-month stardom.
The four-song EP’s catchy title track — which sounds an awful lot like Deep Purple’s version of “Hush” — was a huge British hit, and helped move the Charlatans well ahead of the critically favored Stone Roses in the commercial stakes. Although not originally included on Some Friendly, the song was added to the album’s American issue, joining the moody “You’re Not Very Well,” the dense “Then” (another UK hit), the jumping “Sonic” and several other likably disposable diversions with prickly lyrics. Both records contain “The Only One I Know,” still their best (and best-known) song.
Between 10th and 11th likewise successfully blends up-to-the-minute dance technology (courtesy of ace producer Flood) with song-oriented shoegazing, highlighted by “Weirdo,” a fiery Hammond organ workout. That “Can’t Even Be Bothered” nicks the bassline from “Under My Thumb” is just a sign of things to come.
Working with producer (and ’70s prog-rock guitar god) Steve Hillage on Up to Our Hips yielded lackluster results, dulling the group’s dance drive in guitar-oriented doodling, underplaying Burgess’ calmly seductive voice amid sluggish tempos and a general lack of dynamic juice. In “Feel Flows,” “Autograph,” “Another Rider Up in Flames” and the organ-churning title track, the band sounds as if it misread the speed limit and is going as slow as humanly possible. It’s only on the still-measured “Patrol” and the slide-powered “Jesus Hairdo” that the Charlatans manage to rev up any appreciable measure of energy.
For reasons unknown, Up to Our Hips was released in America without the “UK” name appendage, although it was reattached for the eponymous fourth album. The Charlatans UK, partly produced by Hillage, finds the group falling off the Madchester bandwagon for good — if not exactly for better. Though the supremely funky opening near-instrumental “Nine Acre Court” and the pleasant single “Just Lookin’ ” capitalize on the band’s strengths, the rest of the disc is a mixed bag of trippy, stream-of-consciousness lyrics and retro-boogie — especially on the Stonesy “Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Over.”
Rob Collins — who was arrested as an accessory to an armed robbery in 1992 — died in a car crash in Wales in July 1996.