Best tunes of 2001: #2 The Charlatans “A man needs to be told”

<< #3    |    #1 >>

Here we are, right near the top of the heap of 2001, and we have an awesome track off the seventh album by The Charlatans, a band considered also-rans of the Madchester era, more than a decade earlier. Yeah, and now they are now considered “survivors”.

Indeed, the group originally formed in 1989 and still continue to tour and release new albums, their latest being album number thirteen, “Different days”, in 2017, though only one member, Martin Blunt, still remains from their very early days. They weren’t from the Manchester area proper and yet they were originally lumped in with the likes of The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays, more because of their blending of 60s rock sound with that of acid house culture. Their longevity can partly be attributed to their infusing different sounds to each of their albums, not necessarily to always blend in with their environment as some writers have suggested but to keep things fresh.

Released in our year of focus, “Wonderland” was the second album without original keyboard and organ wizard, Rob Collins, who had tragically died a few years earlier in a car crash and who had leant the band their trademark Hammond backbone. His replacement, Tony Rogers, fills in wonderfully but his mark isn’t the most indelible here. Instead, it’s frontman Tim Burgess that shows us a whole new set of colours by spending most of the album in falsetto, brushing the already soul and R&B-tunes with a swathe of Mayfield.

The highlight of the whole album, though, has got to be “A man needs to be told”. In fact, the tune ranks up there with my favourite of their tunes, even though my preference of their sounds is still that of their first couple of albums. It’s so damned laidback and groovy. Yeah, I just used that word. Groovy. Blunt’s funky bass line just booms along, answered in flourishes and tinkling bursts of piano. Jon Brooke’s drumming is spot on, understated but shimmering, right up to the end where the beat picks up substantially. And yeah, that’s none other than Canada’s own, Daniel Lanois adding his pedal steel to the mix, making the whole thing more dreamy. Burgess.

Ready to play it again? Let’s do it.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2001 list, click here.

Best albums of 2008: #4 Death Cab For Cutie “Narrow stairs”

I got into Death Cab for Cutie with their breakthrough album, 2003’s “Transatlanticism”, but perhaps a year or so after its release. To be honest, I wasn’t sold on them right away, especially on that of the voice of frontman, Ben Gibbard. It took me a while to get used to, most definitely a few spins in my CD carousel. By the time 2005 rolled around and the band unleashed “Plans” upon the world, however, I was sold. I noted a slight change in sound with that album, from more guitar focused indie rock to something crisper and cleaner with a hint of the electronic. I imagined at the time that Gibbard’s work with Jimmy Tamborello in The Postal Service (whose 2004 album I really did fall for right away) must have informed this change some. I got to see the band live in 2006 while they were still touring “Plans” and was quite drawn in by it all.

Then, in early 2008, I heard “I will possess your heart”, the first single off the upcoming album, and I sensed a reversion back to the mean. This was more prog and rock than pop and electronic for sure. Now, I’m not saying I didn’t like “Plans”, no, not at all. It was a great album and a great balancing act. However, I was glad to see that the seesaw was tipping back into rock territory.

I’ve read that former guitarist Chris Walla had been quoted while the band was working on “Narrow stairs” as saying that the album was sounding “pretty weird and pretty spectacular; lots of blood” and further calling it “creepy and heavy”. Weird descriptions for sure when you think of how the final product sounds but I really like the idea of saying that there is “lots of blood” here. I can totally see that. Not that the album is a horror show but how Gibbard and company are always pouring their heart out into their music and putting it on display for us.

“Narrow stars” is a mighty fine album and complete, so it was hard to pick just three tunes for you but here is what I’ve got.


“No sunlight”: As the song’s title suggests, the lyrical themes and subject matter are dark. A cloudy day, tall and modern buildings blacking out light, the loss of innocence, the letting loose into independence, and finding oneself losing their ideals and dreams and optimism. Gibbard’s fresh-faced delivery makes you believe he is/was that way, which makes it all the more real and dire. And yet… and yet… the track is a boppy and toe-tapping number that weighs in at just two and half minutes, like a sniper attack aiming right for the heart. Yeah, it’s total Brecht.

“You can do better than me”: You want to talk heartbreak and self-deprecation? Check these lyrics out: “We’re starting to feel we stayed together out of fear of dying alone. I’ve been slipping through the years. My old clothes don’t fit like they once did so they hang like ghosts of the people I’ve been.” And is if that weren’t enough, Gibbard finishes you right off with this page ripped from Morrissey: “Cause you can do better than me but I can’t do better than you.” And like the last track, this is one short, not even two minutes, practically an interlude. The bass drums just chug along, pacing the organs that sound carnival-like, and Gibbard dances inside the ring, alone, alone, and alone, in a loveless relationship that is like a well-worn circus tent.

“I will possess your heart”: Ok. Here’s something different. The aforementioned first single off the album. It’s eight minutes in length, at least half of it an instrumental intro that throbs and beats itself deep into your soul. Heavy bass and twinkling keys dance and flirt with chiming guitars. It’s a total tease that builds and builds for over four and a half minutes, making you anxious for reprieve. Finally, Gibbard starts in with his obsessive, stalker monologue, words as creepy as those of “Every breath you take”. It’s a song that shouldn’t ever be a single, or a hit single at that, but it did very well, almost garnering the band a Grammy (if you’re impressed with that sort of thing).


Check back next Thursday for album #3. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Fleet Foxes  “Fleet Foxes”
9. The Submarines “Honeysuckle weeks”
8. Schools of Seven Bells “Alpinisms”
7. Glasvegas “Glasvegas”
6. Spiritualized “Songs in A & E”
5. Elbow “The seldom seen kid”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Best tunes of 1991: #6 Blur “There’s no other way”

<< #7    |    #5 >>

I’ve just spent the last few days at a cottage with some of my best friends, old friends, many of whom I’ve known since high school and earlier. We whiled most of the time just hanging out, telling jokes, reliving ancient histories, and listening to tunes. So of course, this particular tune lines right up with feelings and memories drummed up this weekend.

Most of you regular visitors to these pages will know that I am still a huge Blur fan, even after all these years. And well, it all started with their debut album, “Leisure”. When I was in my final year of high school, I had a copy of it on cassette tape, recorded to one side of a C90 and on the other was Chapterhouse’s debut album, “Whirlpool”, both from compact discs borrowed from a friend’s then girlfriend. That I had both albums on one cassette and that this cassette spent plenty of time in my Walkman and bedroom stereo really shines a light on where I was musically in 1991. Yes, I was gobbling up everything that fit into either the shoegaze or madchester pigeonholes.

And while Chapterhouse were decidedly of the shoegaze and dream pop ilk, Blur hadn’t quite declared their mission statement yet, that would come on their sophomore album (tales for another time). So “Leisure” was a bit of a mixed bag, Blur dipping their toes and waggling them in both pools. It says something about the band’s talent and Damon Albarn’s prowess as a songwriter that the album doesn’t feel disjointed at all and that it’s got some amazing tracks that are still considered fan favourites today.

One of these is “There’s no other way”, the second single to be released off “Leisure”. It greets us with a big hello of sliding guitar riff care of Graham Coxon and a big and funky Dave Rowntree beat accoutred with a liberal shake of the tambourine. Alex James shakes his head with his backbone bass, cigarette dangling from his lips and Damon Albarn adds some organs that sound ripped from Rob Collins’ (of The Charlatans) repertoire. All the while, he’s singing about how it sucks to grow up.

“There’s no other way. All that you can do is watch them play.”

It definitely sounds of its time and from a bunch of art school kids in London, it feels like they’ve been visiting the dance halls in Manchester quite a bit. Not that I complained then, and I still don’t.

And oh yeah, if you haven’t seen the video, it’s worth clicking below just to see Damon’s haircut from back then.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.