For many years, the Charlatans were perceived as the also-rans of Madchester, the group that didn't capture the zeitgeist like the Stone Roses or the band that failed to match the mad genre-bending of the Happy Mondays. Of course, they were more traditional than either of their peers. Working from a Stonesy foundation, the Charlatans added dance-oriented rhythms and layers of swirling organs straight out of '60s psychedelia. At first, the Charlatans had great promise, and their initial singles including "The Only One I Know" were hits, but as Madchester and "baggy" faded away, the group began to look like a relic.
Us and Us Only picks up where Tellin' Stories left off and twists that album's virtues around. Where that record was essentially a stripped-down, straight-ahead collection, Us and Us Only dresses up the band's continually impressive songcraft in a moody atmosphere, borrowed in equal parts from Blonde on Blonde, Beggars Banquet, and the Chemical Brothers. The album unfolds in a haze of keyboards and subdued beats, and this murky veil never really lifts throughout the record, even as harmonics and acoustic guitars break through the mist every once and a while. Consequently, the album can initially seem a little amorphous, albeit intriguingly amorphous, filled with deep grooves and tantalizing sonic textures. Repeated plays reveal that Us and Us Only is merely a step below their previous high point of Tellin' Stories. If nothing is as immediately grabbing as "North Country Boy" or "One to Another," that's not a problem, since nearly every song works its charms with subtle grace and considerable muscle. "Forever" soon reveals itself as a minor masterpiece of swirling menace and swagger, while the Dylan inflections of "A House Is Not a Home" and "My Beautiful Friend" seem natural instead of grandstanding.
The Charlatans demonstrated signs of a revival on Up to Our Hips, yet that record in no way suggested the full-fledged return to form of The Charlatans UK, the group's most ambitious, focused, and successful album. The group hasn't changed its sonic approach, yet its music has deepened, incorporating heavy dance elements without losing its core sound. Occasionally, the album relies too heavily on trippy dance instrumentals, but those are funkier and wilder than ever before, and they fit neatly next to the group's Stonesy pop, which is consistently catchy this time around. The Charlatans UK illustrates how a working rock & roll band can balance traditional rock and modern post-acid house music, and the results are frequently glorious.
…It’s recognizably the Charlatans – it’s hard to disguise Tim Burgess’s laconic drawl or the light psychedelic pull of his melodies – but they’re unexpectedly abandoning their dad-rock handbook and taking risks, winding with their freshest, best album since they traded the Happy Mondays for the Rolling Stones.
… Soon, it becomes apparent that, unlike most of their trad rock contemporaries, the Charlatans figured out how to make their music sound both timeless and modern by quietly adding influences and changing their attack each time around, while remaining true to their core sound, much like the Stones did in their prime. The Charlatans may not be as innovative or as song-oriented as the Stones, but after a decade of recording, they're turning out to be nearly as consistent as the Stones were at the same point in their career, which is no small accomplishment.