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The Chameleons

  • Script Of The Bridge
  • What Does Anything Mean, Basically

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    The Chameleons

    Script Of The Bridge 9 ( 1983 )
    Don't Fall / Here Today / Monkeyland / Second Skin / Up The Down Escalator / Less Than Human / Pleasure And Pain / Thursday's Child / As High As You Can Go / A Person Isn't Safe Anywhere These Days / Paper Tiger / View From A Hill

    As the world looked for another Joy Division, lots of bands popped up in the UK sounding like the world might end and missed the sense of humour present in the lyrics of Joy Division. Well, either that or just weren't very good. The Chameleons hailed from Greater Manchester and emerged during the same post-punk scene that also spawned Echo And The Bunnymen and Pyschedelic Furs to name just two. In essence we have a guitar group assisted by synths but never synth-pop - heaven forfend. Simple riffs, hypnotic drumming, an echoey doom-laden and epic feel, poetic lyrics and a distinctive voice with singer/bassist Mark Burgess. The distinctive treated twin guitars lend this album it's musical edge with the drums adding the rock quotent. You can almost think very early U2 but The Chamleons musically have an altogether different feel. The songs don't race and race, they are built on those atmospheric, almost ambient then at times biting electric guitars. A floating riff, another playing short, stabbing parts. A touch of echo-delay on the drums, sorted. It's difficult to describe 'Script Of The Bridge', it's fair to say. I always feel like i'm floating - there's a sense of flying over dirty city streets, reaching for the clouds.

    'Don't Fall' and 'Here Today' both contain an almost indentical guitar riff but just one guy doing something different means we do have two songs, the second with a slightly slower tempo, but more expansive instrumental work for the second guitar and the bass. The bass adds actual melody, always a welcome thing for a bass to do. These two songs being twins of each other as such means 'Script Of The Bridge', especially for a debut immediately lays out the groups wider sonic plan. By the time 'Monkeyland' arrives then we're ready for something more ambitious, 'is there anyone there?' sings Mark and the guitars race then slow then burst back into life again. Again, a song with layers which unravel themselves over time. Chameleons never especially made it easy for an audience, no songs like 'Transmission' by Joy Division for instance that you could immediately latch onto. You can't dance to Chameleons, this is an album to properly listen to and the ways the songs keep building on each other is fantastic. 'Second Skin' has a skyscraping guitar line, a single floating synth line and lyrics that are almost impressionistic, artistic, hard to pin down but they draw colours in front of you. The latter third of 'Second Skin' is stunning with lines such as 'Is this the stuff dreams are made of / I feel like i'm floating on air / I dedicate this melody to you' over the hypnotic riffs. Each constituent part of this music is simple but add everything together... also, take one part away and you wonder if it would totally collapse. That points to a kind of specialness all truly great bands have, that chemistry that made someone like The Pixies so great, for instance.

    'Up The Down Escalator' is the four minutes that most approaches something that could have been played on the radio back in 1983 and the song is fairly uplifting. 'Pleasure And Pain' borrows again that 'Don't Fall' melody to base another song upon, but it works. This is a cohesive album, you don't have to try and make every song utterly different to each other. Some bands to that and the end result falls apart due to the apparent cleverness of the artists. No, 'Script Of The Bridge' ebbs and flows like a great album should ebb and flow. The multi-section closer is another high-point, it's like a movie and tugs at many emotions throughout it's near seven minute long journey. There's a beautiful instrumental passage that begins some three minutes into the track that is the sound of The Chameleons operating at such a high-level you wonder why they didn't sell any more records than they did. The opening song on the LP implores 'Don't Fall', the closing track begins with Mark Burgess singing 'I feel myself falling to the ground', a nice touch. The guitars ring and chime and you begin to dream all over again.

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    top of page What Does Anything Mean, Basically 8 ( 1985 )
    Silence, Sea And Sky / Perfume Garden / Intrigue In Tangiers / Return Of The Roughnecks / Singing Rule Britannia (While The Walls Close In) / On The Beach / Looking Inwardly / One Flesh / Home Is Where The Heart Is / P.S. Goodbye

    The Chameleons were facing up-to a dispute with their record label Statik, unhappy with their promotion of their debut album. Before they could leave the label, they needed to turn in a second album, hence The Chameleons spent around six weeks in the studio recording 'What Does Anything Mean, Basically?', a phrase they found during an acid-trip. Many of the songs here had already been previously rejected for inclusion on their debut record, some were tracks originally recorded for radio sessions and only one or two were brand new songs. Despite this mixed pedigree, 'What Does Anything Mean, Basically?' seems like a natural progression from 'Script Of The Bridge' and a worthwhile addition to their back-catalogue. Mark Burgess has that same turned on, glowering quality to his vocals, the band still rejoice in echo and pedal delays yet synthesizers play a larger part within the overall sound the band were creating. This swirling, passionate and stadium filling kind of sound remains from their debut, although they mix in softer elements less reliant of their angular and hypnotic guitar lines. The early 80s alternative music scene was still dominated by post Joy Division darkness, shimmering guitars and lyrically reflecting the rather hopeless state of the United Kingdom at the time, high unemployment and plenty to rally against. Dreams and nightmares went hand-in-hand back then, hence bands like The Chameleons and early Echo And The Bunnymen. What amazes me to this day however, is how a band like The Chameleons could pop up, take some elements from other bands, e.g., Joy Division, yet craft their own unique sound. Such a wonderful thing doesn't seem to happen so much these days.

    The nature of the material present on this album almost naturally means I like it less than the debut and, indeed the songs I generally like best tend to be the older compositions. I adore 'One Flesh' at any rate, whether it actually is an elder composition, or not, after going through a lot of earnestly impressively tight playing and booming, echo filled vocals - this one has a catchy tune hidden in their somewhere, which always helps. The song has the distinctive Chameleons guitar sound, reaching for the sky and lyrics that seem to depict a recent dream you may well have enjoyed. 'PS Goodbye' ends with a gorgeous sequence of mellow synths and 'lie la la lie, la la la lie' vocal harmonies -a fine way to close the album. 'Intrigue In Tangiers' is the album's longest song, amounting to just over five minutes of echo-filled drumming, obediently beating bass lines and Mark Burgess typically sweet and sour, large and weary vocals. The song is encouragingly energetic. 'Perfume Garden' is also a highlight with defiantly echoing and jerky drum patterns contrasting with brokenly fractured guitar lines and robust vocals from Burgess. The haunting quality of 'The Chameleons' music remains through the album, a sound to live in and go hungry as you sit in the dark smoking a cigarette and quietly and gently shaking in a somewhat hushed atmosphere.

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    top of page this page last updated 15/07/12

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