Although they have never received the credit they deserve, as musicians' musicians The Charlatans have proved through their nine studio albums and countless live performances that they are one of the most significant bands of the last 15 years.
Not only have they consistently delivered the goods, but they have continued to develop new musical styles, from the Hammond organ-driven sound of the early '90s, to more rootsy, guitar-based material influenced by the Stones and Dylan, and later experiments with soul and reggae. If the name hadn't already been taken, they should have been called The Chameleons.
Following on from last month's Forever: The Singles CD (which seemed to get drowned in the flood of pre-Christmas compilation albums by the likes of U2 and Oasis), this DVD demonstrates what a great back catalogue The Charlatans have.
It features the videos of singles from all three record labels - Beggars Banquet, Island and Sanctuary - that the band has been signed to between 1990 and 2006, plus some live concert/TV performances.
Although there are several early single videos missing, such as Over Rising and Crashin' In, which can be found on the 2002 DVD Just Lookin': 1990-1997, this is still a mightily impressive collection. OK, The Charlatans.are not especially known for their videos or visual flair - the music itself always comes first - but it's still great to see the band in action and to observe how they have evolved over the years.
The video of their first single, the Inspiral Carpets-style Indian Rope, in 1990 just shows them playing in a studio but it evokes the whole ‘Madchester' or ‘baggy' scene of that time, with a floppy-haired Tim Burgess swaying trance-like with eyes shut but not moving his feet.
The videos get progressively more sophisticated, like the music itself, while Burgess changes from shy pretty boy into a prancing and pouting Mick Jagger-wannabe - hugging the limelight like any good frontman should.
Weirdo - maybe The Charlatans' best-ever single - has suitably offbeat images of the band and friends messing around on a sofa, including a dalmation and an Amazonian dancer. Just When You're Thinkin' Things Over tries to suggest more of a story, centred around a gangster-style business meeting (with Burgess, hair slicked back, resembling Jagger in Performance), and the black-and-white basement-set One to Another also has a grittier look.
In North Country Boy, the lads have escaped to the States, as they swagger around neon-lit streets, the setting reflecting the big influence of American roots music - blues, folk and country - on their output of the time. In the Oasis-like rocker How High Burgess sounds uncannily like Liam Gallagher as the band meander through a wood with a hawk swooping overhead, while in the epic Forever we get down and dirty as Burgess crawls snail-like along a glass floor.
The hauntingly lovely My Beautiful Friend probably has the video with the most emotional impact, as we see the different phases of one person's life, as he is transformed from a baby to boy, and from adolescent to young adult (Burgess), and finally old age and death. In Love is the Key Burgess uses his Curtis Mayfield ‘falsetto' voice for the first time as the band play on a rooftop in downtown LA, while in the country soul A Man Needs to be Told the band float around as if suspended in space. The amusing animation of Try Again Today fails to rescue a bland song from The Charlatans' weakest album, Up At The Lake.
We're brought up to date with the two excellent singles from this year's underrated reggae rock album Simpatico: Blackened Blue Eyes, which exposes the violent and seedy world of prostitutes and pimps, and the drivingly rhythmic NYC (There's No Need to Stop), which isn't on the Forever Singles CD. The final video is of kaleidoscopic images for the new dance remix single of You're So Pretty, We're So Pretty - no, it's not The Chemical Brothers but it's actually not a bad effort.
There is also a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the Love is the Key video, where drummer Jon Brookes amusingly explains how the band "don't like walking in videos because we feel so self-conscious we can't walk straight"). In addition, there are four songs taken from a concert given at Brixton Academy in May 2006 (which complement the Live at Last DVD, also a gig in Brixton, released in 2005). Like all the best bands The Charlatans' live performances are subtly different from the recorded ones. There are also TV performances of five songs onTop of the Pops and Later...with Jools Holland from the late '90s. Finally, a discography provides comprehensive information.
Even if their videos are unlikely to win any music industry awards, this compilation demonstrates that The Charlatans have not been just a great album band but a great singles band too. And it gives a fascinating insight into their changing faces (literally, in the case of keyboardist Tony Rogers, who has proved himself a worthy successor to Rob Collins, killed in a car crash ten years ago) over the last decade and a half. Probably the main reason why they have been able to carry on producing such good music over this length of time is because every member of the band makes a real contribution to their output. Long may it last.