Chameleons - Why Call It Anything?
The Chameleons split in the late 1980's when their manager, mentor and friend suddenly died. Not being able to stand the consequences of being without such inspirational leadership, the four members went their separate ways. Various bands emerged out of the wreckage but none of these ever achieved the same level of brilliance that the Chameleons did. Not, of course, that most people ever noticed this. The Chameleons, you see, followed in that great British tradition of producing fantastic music which went totally overlooked and unappreciated in their own country, save for a few who had the intellectual independence to hunt down the new and the interesting.
And here they are, over fifteen years later, reformed and once again producing an album. Once again we shall get to hear those ever-so-distinctive guitar hooks, produced by that twin rhythm guitar set up. Once again shall we hear those haunting lyrics, hinting at the decay and degradation of the society which gave rise to them. Or shall we? Can any band truly reform after such a long layoff and continue where they stopped, recover the spark of genius which made them unique in the first place? How does one of the leading lights of 1980's post punk position itself in a world which has experienced and seen off shoegazers, britpoppers and emo-ers(? possibly).
Well, there were a few things in their favour. Music at the turn of the millennium was yearning for something to replace the tired indie scene which had emerged. All across the world, individuals were picking up records of their older brothers, sisters and cousins and discovering the music they listened to in the eighties. Some of these individuals coalesced to form Interpol, Editors, The Stills, and The Cinematics. In short, this album came out at a time when a post punk revival was a trend waiting to occur. And what better way to introduce it than for the masters to reappear and release a new album.
The tracks themselves, while conforming to what we have come to expect of the Chameleons, is not strictly speaking post punk, although the sound will remind you of those heady days. The opening track, "Shades" sees heavy sarcasm overlying an apparently religious lyric. "Anyone Alive" follows up with the Chameleons' best guitar work on display while "All Around" focuses much more on the vocals and harmonies of Mark Burgess.
However, it is not all the heady, evocative mix we would like. "Indiana" is weak while "Music In The Womb" is one of those instantly forgettable pieces which only linger in the subconscious and, when you hear it years later, you have an annoyingly vague recollection but nothing cogent enough to identify. Then there are the moments when the band toy with ambient music, a style which is unfamiliar and almost alien. "Are You Still There" is one such track which closes out the album, while the overly long "Miracles and Wonders" has the added disbenefit of some inappropriate Jamaican style reggae-rap (Matisyahu anyone?).
But all this can be forgotten when the highlights appear. "Lufthansa" features some wonderful jangly guitar work, reminiscent of some of the best of the early Chameleons such as "Swamp Thing". Then there is the best track on the album, "Dangerous Land" which has the guitars feature in a dervish-like whirl of sound in a crescendo to an epic climax. If any one song on this album truly scales the sublime heights of the early Chameleons, then this is it.
So this album is not the disappointment it could so easily have been. The Chameleons may never be able to reclaim the brilliance they showed between 1983 and 1986, but they successfully repositioned themselves with Why Call It Anything? without losing sight of the fundamental qualities which made them such a highlight of the years when they first emerged. The moody teenager has matured into an adult, but an adult who still remembers what it is to be a moody teenager and retains a respect for those qualities which define the character.
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