Album Review: The Charlatans - 'A Head Full Of Ideas'

Thirty years on from their debut album, 'A Head Full of Ideas' celebrates The Charlatan’s mammoth discography, which saw 13 top 40 studio albums and 22 hit singles. The record includes 21 of their finest tracks, remastered to clear and crisp perfection. We are able to travel through the beloved Manchester band’s astounding career, noting their great hallmarks of the past decades. The Mic's Maia Gibbs reminisces on three decades of The Charlatans.

We can take excursions through the wide terrain that makes up their distinctive sound. We can dance to their punchy basslines. Gawk at the revolutionary guitar work. Voyage through their thumping drums. And we can be pure tourists to Tim Burgess’ sunny vocals. We holiday through musical nostalgia, venturing into fond memories and moments that were backlit by the band’s songs. What The Charlatans’ bring us is escapism in its purest form.

Their journey leading up this compilation has had its ups and downs. Their most poignant tragedies being that of the deaths of their keyboard player Rob Collins in 1996 and drummer Jon Brooks in 2013. Their memory is kept alive through this work, the sounds of their instrument reminding us of what is gone but never forgotten. What the album gives us is time to reflect on how truly brilliant The Charlatans and their journey has been.

"Their Northern Soul and house-inspired rhythms have masterfully adapted to each new decade..."

They have not only marched on but transformed and evolved. They have retained what made them instantly likeable in the early 90s. Their Northern Soul and house-inspired rhythms have masterfully adapted to each new decade, exciting old listeners and teasing the new. So much so that their last album, Different Days was described as “one of their best ever” by The Guardian. Their Hammond organ and swaggering frets make them instantly recognisable.

The Charlatans are more accomplished than ever.

The album is jam-packed with work. Alongside the singles, there’s remixes, unreleased demos, and a second CD dedicated to 13 live tracks. Usually in a collection like this remixes only gain a recreational interest from me. However, A Head Full of Ideas truly breaks the mould here. My personal favourite of the remixes is the bass heavy techno mix of Plastic Machinery by Nottingham-locals Sleaford Mods. The CD also offers us work from Norman Cook, Lo-Fidelity Allstars and The Go!. Jagz Kooner slays My Beautiful Friend, while The Chemical Brothers impress with their version of Nine Acre Court. The remixes truly become a celebration of the British music scene.

It could be the ‘locked-inside’, pandemic scars still left on my consciousness, which made the inclusion of cheers amongst festival crowds, snippets of unintended sound interference and echoes of musicians picking up and tuning instruments that made the live CD hallowed to me. Marks of mistakes did not detract from the greatness of the music but reminded me of the joy that is live music. The CD almost acts as a documentary into the bands journey, from buoyant cheerfulness to their place as one of Brit-pops’ most long-standing and successful bands. The tracks are chronologically sequenced, ending cleverly with Sproston Green. You can learn all you need to know about The Charlatans’ history by listening to this CD alone.

If that still isn’t enough to satisfy you, then I suggest the 6-vinyl-deluxe edition. You can explore the eclectic sound of eleven demos, each at different stages of creation. From the polished Crystal Eyes to the half-done, fly-on-the-wall in the recording studio Always On My Mind, there’s something for everyone here. To ask any more would simply be greedy.

The Charlatans really are one of the more dominant UK bands. They are a fully functioning unit, a powerhouse, which says a-lot if we compare them to some of their Brit-pop contemporaries. And what can be said for even less nineties artists is that The Charlatans have retained their likability. I don’t know if Tim Burgess' Twitter listening parties became a staple in anyone else’s house during the pandemic, but he really did bring a bit of warmth to some of the bleaker times. In the same way, this album has brought a bit of the sun to the oncoming Winter. With a rollercoaster past, A Head Full Of Ideas is a celebration of a band who have fought through it all, in the process becoming, if not national treasures, mine.

Written by: Maia Gibbs

Edited by: Elliot Fox

In article images courtesy of The Charlatans via Facebook. Video courtesy of BBC Music via YouTube.