Two songs stick out in my mind from the Autumn of 1990. Both crucial releases in the careers of two new Manchester bands. One was the dreary but persistent “This Is How It Feels” by The Inspiral Carpets and the other the magnetic pull of The Charlatans “The Only One I Know”. Having been reared on the sullen sounds of The Smiths, The Inspiral Carpets filled me with mild disinterest, while The Charlatans, an exhilarating blend of 60’s psychedelia and Northern Soul seemed to herald a new era of music, that alongside forerunners like The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays would firstly be called ‘baggy’ and then for those in the right Northern postcode, ‘Madchester’.
For a band who’ve remained doggedly true to their path, and 20 years later still producing albums of considerable calibre, Some Friendly is an album worthy of celebration and reinvestigation. The passing decades haven’t welcomed Some Friendly with the same kudos or recognition afforded the other benchmark albums of that era such as The Stone Roses debut, or the Happy Mondays Pills, Thrills and Bellyaches, but remastered and reissued with a disc of extras, this chart-topping debut more than lived up to the brilliance that “The Only One I Know” had suggested. Perhaps which, as a sign of confidence in the material already in their arsenal, was surprisingly not included on the album by the band.
Kicking off with the self-assured slate-cleaning psychedelic rock of “You’re Not Very Well” and the relaxed pop of “White Shirt”, Some Friendly is an album very much of its time. The quickfire bursts of Rob Collin’s Hammond organ and the ‘find a groove and stick to it’ bass playing from Martin Blunt would dominate The Charlatans sound, and the ubiquitous loping shuffle beat (which every Manchester chancer knew) gave the band a slight edge, but holding the door open was Tim Burgess, a better-looking, stronger-throated rival to Stone Roses vocalist, Ian Brown. Where Brown was half man, half monkey, Burgess was the perfect front-man, with his insouciant Jagger-like pout, pale skin and visage-obscuring mange of hair.
“Here”, the follow-up to “The Only One I Know”, doesn’t quite fill its predecessors shoes, hitting a safe middle ground that has all corners of the band putting out singular performances. But its the slide into the acid-dance groove which brings out the sublime “Opportunity” (and the accompanying remixed version “Opportunity Three) where Burgess’ “going round, round, round, this sensation I found in my soul” lyric rises up to meet the tripped out hammond vibe. This near 7 minute statement of intent from Burgess and Co. showed The Charlatans as being much more than being 60’s revivalists, breaking into new pastures few bands had the ability to follow. “Sproston Green”, soon to become another anthemic track for the band, with some artful weaving between Collins’ keys and Jon Brooke’s guitar which book-ended the album perfectly.
With a bonus disc of b-sides, session tracks, and singles without a place to call home (“The Only One I Know” and “Over Rising”) and future single “Weirdo“ on display in the unfinished form of Peel Session track “Always In My Mind“, the complete package captures The Charlatans in the midst of enjoying their Midas touch and spreading it far and wide. To look back at the early ‘Madchester’ days and think it bore such bountiful fruit is a bit of a misnomer. Few albums reach the perfection of Some Friendly, something that revisiting this album makes you quickly realise.