The Charlatans / The Feeling - Manchester Apollo - 12.5.06

Every so often a band comes that doesn't fit in a time or place, but has a timeless ethereal sense of genius. That band are The Feeling and apart from the fact we know the guitarist is Mr Sophie Ellis Bextor everything about them belongs back in the 70s and eary 80s with it's radio friendly AOR rock. Spending their formative years playing Beatles and Bangles covers in the Alps to a revolving set of skiing parties they realize if you're ever to make it outside cool Britannia you need to the hooks to reach out to tiny villages in corner of Europe or yankee doodle dandies in America. Setting themselves up as the anti-Arctic Monkeys, who they happily lambaste as a manufactured band dreamt up by the indie elite, tonight's set proves that while they can cut it on the small stages (as their last Manchester headline date testified) it's really the big stages where their songs belong.

With only one single behind them in the form of "Sewn", by the bands own admission a single that was chosen by the record label to appeal to a more credible audience before their overtly pop moments were released, the crowd know little of the band with the exception of a few articles hailing them the kings of AOR cool. Next single "Fill My Little World Right Up" is more addictive than crack with it's almost reggae-fied influence and huge Elton sized piano chords. "Love It When You Call" details the dwindling friendships as you pass your mid 20s and you break off into coupledom and friends start to phone once a year at Christmas. "Rose" is said to be a love song with as much about the singers love of alcohol as his relationship. "Strange" is self explanatory, a song about not fitting in with the rest of the world.

While people will try to lump the Feeling in with the likes of Snow Patrol, Keane and Embrace it would be a disservice to even suggest they breathe the same air as them. The Feeling are an emo band for those people in their late 20s and like the Smiths they appeal to the heart as well as the head. They'll never be credible like The Monkeys, but their songs say more about life than a few half-hearted Streets rip offs.

Underrated and overlooked The Charlatans are probably the most played band in Manchester after The Oasis and Stone Roses. Any night of the week you can pop into 42s or 5th Ave and nigh on all the Charlatans greatest hits are played back to back by the never changing setlists. At least half of tonight's set draws heavily from that extensive back catalogue, but sadly we're at a loss as to explain just how wrong the Charlatans have got it on their latest album which commits that most heinous of crimes of white boys attempting reggae music. Now if you're The Clash or even contemporary bands like Dead 60s, or at times even Hard Fi, who are rooted in genre, have listened extensively, it works but sadly when you're jumping between styles like The Charlatans have done with the funk of "Wonderland" and the folk simplicity of "Up At The Lakes"  you can end up falling flat on your face as they do tonight. Tonight matthew The Charlatans are going to be UB40 with Tim Burgess taking the spot of Pato Banton in the most embarrassing change of musical direction in history.

Perhaps what the Charlatans need is a break as with the exception of a blip where Burgess went off to record his solo album the band have been constant since the early 90s and this new direction is the sign of a band with a lack of direction and desire to escape that "Charlatans sound" when really they should be ploughing and refining what they've already being doing successfully for a decade and a half. "Telling Stories", "North Country Boy", "You're So Pretty", "Can't Get Outta Bed", "One To Another" would make for a fantastic greatest hits collection, throw in "The Only One I Know" and "Just When You're Thinking Things Over" and you've got a world beating set list. Perhaps the only song lacking from tonight was "Here Comes A Soulsaver", the bands best moment of their entire career despite the fact it's been overlooked of late.

The Charlatans are at a stage in their career where they don't need to reinvent the wheel so this pitiful attempt at reggae simply clouds what for many have been an unspoilt 16 years to date. Tonight in Manchester was a rollercoaster of emotions from absolute despair on the new material to elation during those back catalogue moments which surely beat half of Oasis' recent set.

Alex McCann
Photos: Karen McBride

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