The Chameleons - Strange Times - Classic Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

The Chameleons - Strange Times

by Jon Burke Rating:9 Release Date:1986-09-01
The Chameleons - Strange Times
The Chameleons - Strange Times

Mark Burgess and his band, The Chameleons, are an anomaly. Despite endless pop-rock appeal, a Mancunian post-punk pedigree and three perfect LP’s, they’ve received relatively little commercial success. Nearly every song the band recorded was anthemic; the soaring guitars, driving rhythms and Burgess’ compelling vocals coming together to form a wall of the most beautiful noise you’ve probably never heard. While I could be reviewing any of the Chameleons’ albums (Script of the Bridge and What Does Anything Mean? Basically are equally brilliant) I’ve been tasked with a brief, “Classic” review of Strange Times. Here goes nothing...

First, before you read on, go to the bottom of this review and listen to “Soul In Isolation”. When you’re back, having been freshly bathed in all that dark, atmospheric, brilliance, ask yourself: Why haven’t I heard this before? The answer is long and complicated and involves bad luck with labels, the death of their manager Tony Fletcher and ultimately an overall lack of exposure outside of the UK. It’s too bad because The Chameleons boast some really intricate, bizarrely-tuned, guitar work, courtesy of Dave Fielding and Reg Smithies, which one moment is a sonic wrecking ball, demolishing expectations with dense layers of reverb. The next moment the guitarists fall into a complicated lockstep interplay, riffing back and forth, almost like a game. Few of their contemporaries had these chops.

Speaking of chops, John Lever’s drums sound almost machined in their flawless precision and silvery tone. Strange Times afford Lever the opportunity to create some complex rhythms (“Caution”), some massive beats (“Swamp Thing”) and to simply show-off his versatility (“Mad Jack”) as one of the best drummers in rock. Though Burgess’ bass playing is often overlooked due to his frontman role, he and Lever created a rhythm section that rivaled contemporaries like The Cure.

As for Burgess, though his lyrics are (deceptively) simple, and his voice (beautifully) imperfect, what he is, unfailingly, is clear. Listeners always know where they stand with Mark Burgess because he is bellowing it out to them with all the paranoid honesty of biblical prophet or a prisoner facing his third week of panoptic solitary confinement… William Blake meets Michel Foucault.

“Oh, when you think on it, when you think of it/ we’re all souls in isolation/ Alive in here, I'm alive in here, I'm alive in here…” – “Soul in Isolation”

“Now the world is too much with me/ Please leave, just go away/ Before I lose my mind completely/ Just leave, please go now/ Now nothing's sacred anymore/ When the demon's breaking down your door/ You'll still be staring down at the floor” –“Swamp Thing”

The Chameleons were incomparable and accordingly this review has given them short shrift. Do yourself a solid and seek out a copy of Strange Times, or honestly, any of their first three albums. If you like loud, gorgeous post-punk rock you will be so glad you did.


Overall Rating (2)

4.5 out of 5 stars