It’s hard to believe that this year will mark 20 years since the 2001 Sainsbury’s Christmas advert featuring Chef Jamie Oliver where he goes Christmas shopping with his Nan. Of all the people he buys presents for, including his Dad, a certain Tony is fortunate, for Jamie has bought him the latest The Charlatans LP, Wonderland.
Fast forward twenty years, and The Charlatans have since released six more albums and mourned the loss of drummer Jon Brookes in 2013. After 15 years since the 2006 silver certified Forever: The Singles was released, a revised 2CD equivalent compilation was long overdue. A Head Full of Ideas begins with studio recordings featuring at least one song from each of their 13 LP’s starting chronologically with the 1990s Some Friendly and ending with 2017’s Different Days, which topped the UK Indie charts. The first six LP’s dominate this first CD equivalent worth of tracks occupying eleven of the 21 songs.
Tellin’ Stories, The Charlatans most commercially successful fifth LP, has the most with four tracks. Whilst there will never be agreement as to which tracks should have featured on this release, one thing The Charlatans have done by providing a taster from each LP release demonstrates how consistent, innovative and passionate they have always been about music.
As with Forever: The Singles, there is a second CD equivalent of 13 songs dedicated to live performances. The 2006 release featured John Peel and Steve Lamacq BBC performances and demos; this new release targets the first six LP’s and draws the best of The Charlatans performances at gigs and festivals, including Reading 1992 and 1999 shows and Glastonbury.
Apart from “Can’t Get out of Bed”, there is only one version of each song on this release. Whether The Charlatans should have included the studio version of a song instead of a live song or vice versa is neither here nor there. What matters is that no song disappoints. Each song makes a fine legacy for this West Midlands outfit.
The main difference between the studio tracks and the live songs is that some live songs are extended. “Sproston Green”, known for being Gary Neville’s favourite Charlatans song, is just under nine minutes long and over twice the length of the studio version. Whether it is down to good mixing, the organs on the live recordings appear to be that much richer and sonorous.
Maybe it’s the impact of COVID that denied the nation live music for so long; the inclusion of cheers amongst festival crowds makes these mostly pre-millennium live recordings that bit more sacrosanct. Even the ten seconds of unintended sound interference on “My Beautiful Friend” at one minute eight seconds to one minute 18 seconds does not detract from the greatness of this song and its live delivery.
If you find fault with the tracklisting on A Head Full of Ideas, then you genuinely are a Charlatans fan. You understand them and see them for the geniuses they are. It’s difficult to disagree with the stance that each song is almost flawless and genuinely reflects the glorious three-decade and counting story of a band whose previous compilations don’t do in the same way.