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Monday, August 28, 2017

The Chantays: Two Sides Of The Chantays


1) Move It; 2) Maybe Baby; 3) It Never Works Out For Me; 4) Love Can Be Cruel; 5) I'll Be Back Someday; 6) Only If You Care; 7) Three Coins In The Fountain; 8) Beyond; 9) Greenz; 10) Space Probe; 11) Continental Missile; 12) Retaliation.

The second and last record that The Chantays made before splitting up and vanishing from the active scene until their reunion in the Nineties is at least a sincere attempt to advance beyond the level of ʽPipelineʼ. The title is actually a meaningful pun: while Side B of the album consists entirely of surf-rock (and similar) instrumentals, Side A is given over to vocal pop songs, trying to establish the band as a legit pop act that can not only play dance-oriented surf tunes but also sing love songs — and not just sing, but also compose: after a style-setting cover of Buddy Holly's ʽMaybe Babyʼ, everything that follows is self-written.

Unfortunately, as pop composers and singers, The Chantays never managed to be anything more than merely competent. They can sing, and they can harmonize, and they can even compose — I do not recognize these songs as directly ripped off from somebody in particular, and ʽLove Can Be Cruelʼ just needs a slightly more haunting arrangement and a bit more personality about its multi-tracked vocals to count as a 1964 classic. But this is precisely where the rub lies: The Chan­tays take the folk-pop of The Searchers and play it without managing to sound properly broken-hearted. In ʽOnly If You Careʼ, when they sing "I want some mighty fine loving from you", you simply do not get the impression that such is indeed the case, which is a pity because I kinda like how they weave in the ʽLouie Louieʼ riff in this dark love ballad.

The second side is more traditional and, consequently, much better — particularly ʽThree Coins In The Fountainʼ, with its sound of coins dropping in the fountain actually providing part of the rhythm (not that Roger Waters ever got his cash register idea from here, but it's always hip to find indirect predecessors), and a proto-psychedelic echo-laden keyboard part providing the romantic melodic part. On ʽGreenzʼ (a veiled reference to ʽGreen Onionsʼ?), The Chantays expand into R&B territory, with impressive energy from the rhythm section and some weird guitar figures; on ʽSpace Probeʼ, they try to go for a suitably «astral» sound, laying on the echo and some primitive electronic sound effects; on ʽContinental Missileʼ, Rob Marshall bangs the shit out of his electric piano to a fast and furious rhythm track, though I would not precisely describe this as the typical sound of a continental missile; and on ʽRetaliationʼ (what's up with all the war imagery? just how obsessed with the Cold War could those kids be?), they play with distortion, power chords, feed­back, and frantic tom-tom drumming in a manner that presages the classic Who sound of 1965, even if they only make one tiny step in the direction where The Who would make a giant leap.

Still, neither continuing to experiment with various genres nor splitting their personality in two distinct halves helped The Chantays get along — even though The Ventures were keeping the art of the short pop instrumental commercially viable, The Chantays lacked their instrumental prowess, and their cautious experimental moves stunned no one. It took me at least three listens, in fact, to begin to discern how much thinking, if not exactly inspiration, was invested in the preparation of this album — what with its total lack of flashiness and the boys' rather sparkless vocals. But it is quite a curious artifact from 1964, well worth exploring and, in my opinion, de­serving of a modest thumbs up just for the sheer number of various ideas that turned it into quite an eccentric and eclectic little record, one that was probably doomed to fail, but these days, could easily be reevaluated to help somewhat restore the jaded reputation of surf-rock.

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