19 Feb The Chameleons: Strange Times – Black Edition – 35th Anniversary vinyl re-issue, Louder Than War – album review
The Chameleons finally release the masterpiece that is Strange Times from 1986, which influenced a whole era of post punk with the shimmering beauty of a band that were ready to take on the world and are worthily ready right now 35 years on. Wayne AF Carey looks back…
Mark Burgess and co were and still are the best band to come from the working class town of Middleton, Manchester. Many of the massive indie contingency may argue about another Midd band I don’t need to name and fair play, yet The Chameleons are something else when it comes to dark exciting Gothic post punk tinged songwriting that sounds anthemic still today and keeps away the beer throwing football tinged crowd that pile into our big parks for a singalong and a scrap. The resurgence of Burgess and Smithies is building momentum each year as anyone who’s seen them live lately can tell you, with Burgess still commanding the stage with his old buddy Smithies re-enacting that old ‘Cathedral Of Sound’ magic to a mass of people hungry for those three classic 80’s albums that still sound magnificent today.
Saying that, you can’t forget the magic of Dave Fielding and John Lever back in the day who were part of the whole magic of the debut Script Of The Bridge and the wonderful follow up What Does Anything Mean Basically? The band at the time were on the verge of great things and when they released the timeless Strange Times it looked like massive things were going off until sad events took over and the band parted. Nevertheless at the time they went out with a bang with an album that still sounds fantastic today.
The opener Mad Jack is as light hearted as it gets for The Chameleons. An up tempo rock number with Burgess giving us a few bah bah bah bah’s and the swirling guitars creating an echoing sound that soars. Caution is a dark eight minute opus with a cracking bass line and jangly guitars with Lever’s tribal drums. A song about heroin “Brown sugar, ice in our veins, no pressure, no pain” Bleak yet uplifting with that classic sound that The Horrors have channeled for years. A chilling song about pain from the heart of darkness that only they could create. The keyboards give it that extra haunting feel as it drifts in and out like a lost ghost trapped in an opiate nightmare. Tears is up there with some of the best songs ever written. An acoustic delight that sends shivers through your whole body. A pure hit of beauty with dark lyrics as usual about loneliness and paranoia. A proper tear jerker….
Soul In Isolation is a stone cold classic that still resonates on every listen. It has elements of the best post punk from that era all crammed into one song. This is a crown jewel of a solid four piece in harmony, which still shocks me to the core that they never rose to the heights of The Bunnymen. I’ll even go out and say I’ve always thought they were much better. My opinion is their darker sound was too complicated for the pop crowd and too dark for the Joy Division trenchcoats in this era which is quite ironic nowadays. Chameleons had a more gothic sound and could easily have crossed over to both worlds. The classics still roll on with the majestic Swamp Thing, still a live favourite and should be a massive anthem with the strange drum beat from Lever and the double headed guitars from Fielding and Smithies enveloping the menacing bass and vocals from Burgess. “The storm has come, or is it just another shower?” Fucking great hearing a thousand people chanting this at The Ritz in Manchester…
Maybe Time, The End Of Time ups the tempo a notch with Lever holding the whole song together and Burgess plying us with his clever lyrics swirling throughout to produce another dark anthem of beauty. Seriocity is another cracker that goes all Bowie on you with some sublime keyboards and a simplistic piece of mellowed out guitars and a repetitive beat from Lever. Lovely stuff. In Answer is another brilliant tune. Anthemic, powerful and moving. They say three is the magic number, even in elements. The song goes all mental in the middle with the Fantastic Four pouring some molten magic into the cauldron of post punk anthems. I mention The Horrors yet again and I’ll give you a challenge. Listen to Primary Colours and Skying, then listen to all the first three Chameleons albums and tell me their’s no similarity. I’m willing to put my neck on the line with this one…
Childhood again is a massive stab at greatness and a nod to life growing up in Middleton up on The Hill (correct me if I’m wrong Mark!) Another piece of great songwriting that lifts you up and throws you in the air like Pep Guardiola winning another trophy. I’ll Remember ends the album with a nice piece of Fielding’s ethereal guitars crawling over it like an early piece of Spiritualized at their best. A cracking finale.
Chameleons fans may argue with me that Script From A Bridge was their best album. I’m 50/50 on that nowadays. After listening again after all these years I reckon this was a classic bow out that sounds 100 times better than most releases today. A timeless classic that’s up there with the best albums ever recorded. A nostalgic headfuck. Go and catch them live….
Words by Wayne Carey, Reviews Editor for Louder Than War