The Chameleons: ‘Best Band From Oldham’? OK that may come across as a back-handed compliment until you remember that the magisterial Puressence hail from there as well and the competition gets tough. Let’s face it, having Inspiral Carpets as the third best band from your town isn’t bad.
A brief summary of the brilliance of The Chameleons proved too tricky. So it got deleted. Let us merely say that this band of heart, soul, insight and power released three albums culminating in their 1986 masterpiece Strange Times, a Manchester album so fucking good it stands toe to toe with The Queen Is Dead, Unknown Pleasures, Technique and Only Forever (and you don’t throw epithet’s like that around for shits ‘n’ giggles). Thanks to songs such as the explosive ‘In Shreds’, the euphoric ‘Mad Jack’ and the Manchester anthem that never was ‘Swamp Thing’ they acquired a small but rabid hardcore.
Then their manager, Tony Fletcher died tragically young and The Chameleons dissolved. I could wax lyrical about their original trio of albums (and may well at some point) but instead I aim to shine a light on their 2001 reunion album, Why Call It Anything, why indeed?
Seemingly forgotten and probably destined to live in the shadows of an already neglected discography let’s look at the album track by track.
Shades – The Chameleons are back! Atmospheric and pounding with tinkling guitars and soulful vocals from Mark. Cutting bass and swing in the drums. Singalong chorus and the guitar kisses the sky with Tom Verlaine style flourishes. Incidentally this album is beautifully produced.
Anyone Alive? – Slower and more keening, acoustic and ringing electric guitar. The first real hit of Chameleons emotion. Stunning chorus, utterly classic, simple but wonderfully effective and sung.
Indiana – Just so ridiculously catchy. Maybe the Chameleons song that just makes you want to dance! 3 songs in and the band is already exploring the many shades of their wonderful skill. On another planet this was a mega hit.
Lufthansa – A very heartfelt, almost religious song. A deep and passionate chorus, syrupy bass and resolutely slow drums cascade an introspective gem.
Truth Isnt Truth Anymore – a slow intro weaves its way round you like a cat around your ankles until the guitar kicks in backed by percussion. Another anthemic chorus. This song can make you melt.
All Around – One of the most incredible songs from one of the most incredible bands. This song is up there with Second Skin for sheer poetry and heart stopping music. Perfection.
Dangerous Land – a good song though suffers when compared to the sheer brilliance of what has come so far. Still better the vast majority of output by other bands of course though! It really takes off towards the end though with transcendent vocals.
Music In The Womb – a little sentimental for my tastes. The Chameleons are intensely heartfelt and emotional, but more in a poetic way whereas this is more direct and feels a little sugary for me.
Miracles & Wonders – Staggering! Along with All Around another highlight of their entire career. Vocal and lyrics from Mark are sensational and the guest vocals? Genius! A sublime majestic work!
Are You Still There? – At atmospheric closer of found sounds and ambient textures, intriguing but truth be told you’ll probably only listen to it once.
The best thing to say is that unlike most reunion albums this isn’t a pale retread of former glories: this is a continuation of The Chameleons. In fact I now consider this album to be their second best behind, of course, Strange Times (controversial maybe).
A wonderful album by a wonderful band.
The Chameleons music is music from the heart, music that will live in your veins.
*apologies to those who don’t sit on the fence and can actually can decide between The Chameleons and Puressence. Weirdo’s.