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Where To Start With... / May 25, 2017

Where To Start With... The Charlatans

With their 13th album arriving in stores this week, we cast an eye over Different Days and pick five of The Charlatans' finest moments...

Rising to prominence as part of the 'Madchester' scene that began to emerge from the city of Manchester at the tail-end of the 1980s and included bands such as The Stones Roses, Inspiral Carpets and Happy Mondays, The Charlatans have outlasted many of their erstwhile contemporaries, even though the founding members aren't even from Manchester.

Formed in the West Midlands in 1988 by bassist Martin Blunt, keyboardist Rob Collins, guitarist Jonathan Baker and drummer Jon Brookes, the band's early gigs featured fellow Midlander Baz Ketly on vocals, but a year later Ketley departed and was replaced by the Northwich-born Tim Burgess, with the band moving further north and becoming involved in the emerging Manchester scene. Baker would depart after their debut album, Some Friendly, to be replaced by their current guitarist Mark Collins.

While many of the groups associated with the city at that time have since disbanded or faded into obscurity, The Charlatans have endured, releasing 12 albums since their 1990 debut, and could be described as survivors in more ways than one. Keyboardist Rob Collins was killed in a road accident at the age of just 33, crashing his car while driving back from Rockfield Studios near Monmouth just as the band were completing their fifth album Tellin' Stories, while their longtime drummer Jon Brookes finally succumbed to brain cancer in 2013, having been diagnosed three years earlier.

Their most recent album, 2015's Modern Nature, was their first without Brookes and the vacant drum stool was filled by a revolving cast of drummers that included The Verve's Peter Salisbury, Factory Floor's Gabriel Gurnsey and New Order's Stephen Morris. Hailed as one of their best in years, the album debuted at No. 7 in the UK Album Chart - their highest placing since 2001's Wonderland - and this week they return with its follow-up.

Different Days, announced in March this year, is the band's thirteenth studio album and this time around they've invited plenty of guests to the party. Once again, Jon Brookes' boots have proved too big to fill on a permanent basis and many of the drummers who featured on Modern Nature return for its successor, including Stephen Morris and Pete Salisbury, while A Certain Ratio's Donald Johnson contributes percussion on 'Over Here'.

The guest list doesn't end there though: Brian Jonestown Massacre's mercurial frontman Anton Newcombe puts in an appearance the album's lead-off single 'Plastic Machinery' and 'Not Forgotten', while Johnny Marr chalks up the most appearances on Different Days, lending his inimitable guitar-playing skills to three of the album's 13 songs. Factory Floor's Nik Void and New Order's Gillian Gilbert also appear on the album, as does Paul Weller, who co-writes and contributes piano and backing vocals to the album's closer, 'Spinning Out'. Elsewhere there are also appearances for Catastrophe actress Sharon Horgan, who adds backing vocals to the title track, Lambchop's Kurt Wagner, who contributes a spoken-word introduction to 'The Forgotten One', and author Ian Rankin, who does the same on 'Future Tense'.

As with Modern Nature, one of their most adventurous albums in recent years, Different Days has that same mixture of familiarity and experimentation; songs like 'Plastic Machinery' are instantly recognisable as The Charlatans, but there are plenty of interesting twists and turns here, not least the inclusion of the spoken word segments that break up the album. If you've been a fan of their recent output, this is unlikely to disappoint.

You can find the video for 'Plastic Machinery' below, beneath that we've picked out five more key tracks from the band's long career...



'The Only One I Know'

The Charlatans' breakthrough single wasn't initially included on the LP version of their debut album Some Friendly, since the band had intended to release only one single from each album in their early days and selected 'Then' for inclusion instead, but there's no doubt that 'The Only One I Know' proved crucial to the band's early success and it remains a fan favourite to this day. Rob Collins' swirling, Deep Purple-esque organ riff propels the song, with Tim Burgess' almost whispered vocal adding a ghostly atmosphere to a song that became one of the defining tunes of the Madchester era.


'Just When You're Thinkin' Things Over'

By the time of their self-titled fourth album, the band were beginning to move away from the Hammond organ-drenched sounds of their earlier records and starting to hit their creative stride. It was also a moment that revived the band's fortunes and catapulted them back into the charts, landing them their biggest hit since 'The Only One I Know'. These days the song is a live set regular and it's easy to see why.


'One To Another'

After the death of Rob Collins during the sessions for Tellin' Stories, it was unclear for a while whether The Charlatans would be able to continue without him and if you're in any doubt as to the enormity of his contribution to the band's sound, one listen to the pounding, piano-led intro to this tune should be enough to convince anyone. Based on Collins' towering riff and a drum loop provided by Chemical Brothers' Tom Rowlands, this is The Charlatans at their very best.


'Love Is The Key'

By 2001, Tim Burgess had opted for a change of scenery, relocating to the sunnier climes of Los Angeles, and it was here that band's sound began to evolve once more on Wonderland. An album heavily influenced by Californian soul, 'Love Is The Key' is a standout moment and the verses borrow heavily from Curtis Mayfield with their slithering bassline and falsetto vocals, but it's effortlessly cool and still stands up against their best work.


'Blackened Blue Eyes'

Our final pick is the opening salvo from the band's 2006 album Simpatico and while the album as a whole met with a mixed reaction from critics, it did yield one of their best ever songs and this remains a fan favourite a full decade on from its release.


The Charlatans' new album Different Days is out now and available here in hmv's online store.

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