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Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Chameleons: John Peel Sessions


1) The Fan And The Bellows; 2) Here Today; 3) Looking Inwardly; 4) Things I Wish I'd Said; 5) Don't Fall; 6) Nostalgia; 7) Second Skin; 8) Perfumed Garden; 9) Dust To Dust / Return Of The Rednecks; 10) One Flesh; 11) Intrigue In Tangiers; 12) P. S. Goodbye.

As befits every second-rate band, The Chameleons have a huge number of live albums out, most of them released in semi-official status on various tiny labels, and trying to trace them all down and discuss each one separately would be taking this completism thing way too far. But this reasonably concise and high-quality package from the ubiquitous John Peel is worth mentioning, especially because it came before everything else and could be regarded as a comprehensive summary of the band's legacy — put out at a time when there was no talk of a Chameleons come­back, and the fans could hardly hope for anything better.

In brief, there are two things about this compilation that make it particularly attractive for me. First, the setlist: these tracks are taken from three separate sessions — four songs from 1981, way before they got around to recording their first album; four from 1983, promoting Script Of The Bridge; and four more from 1984, promoting What Does Anything Mean. At this point, the sessions stop, meaning that there is nothing from Strange Times, which is quite a relief. But it also gives you a couple of early songwriting attempts that cannot be found elsewhere (well, they can now, but not back then): ʽThe Fan And The Bellowsʼ, a good punk-pop romp with a healthy dosage of youthful protest energy, before it began mutating into acid depression already on their first LP; and ʽThings I Wish I'd Saidʼ, which sounds, well, like any other fast early Chameleons song, but at least it's better than any slow late Chameleons song.

Second and maybe even more important, the fact that these takes were recorded live for radio broadcast means — yes, you guessed it right: a relative liberation from the confines of glossy Eighties production. The biggest beneficiary of this is drummer John Lever (and his predecessor Brian Schofield, captured on the first four tracks), who is here able to fully and openly participate in the ritual, now that his fills are less robotic and you actually get to feel the effort he puts into every bit of his pummeling. The performances themselves are not at all different from the studio versions, so, for future reference, I'd simply take these versions of ʽHere Todayʼ, ʽDon't Fallʼ, etc., over their regular studio equivalents.

Other than these two points, there is little that could be added to this brief evaluation. Given the spotty record of The Chameleons, it is nice to see a package that managed to concentrate on all their good sides and largely avoid the bad ones — it is nice, in fact, to be able to say anything good about a live album by a band whose live shows were seemingly not all that different from the way they played in the studio.

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