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Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Chameleons: Why Call It Anything?


1) Shades; 2) Anyone Alive?; 3) Indiana; 4) Lufthansa; 5) Truth Isn't Truth Anymore; 6) All Around; 7) Dangerous Land; 8) Music In The Womb; 9) Miracles And Wonders; 10) Are You Still There?.

This may be the first time in history that The Chameleons landed with a sound that finally satisfies my tastes — interestingly enough, they did it without sacrificing their usual vibe, though, implying that you can actually get an «Eighties sound» without embracing all the lows of Eighties' production. First, you can have a solid, powerful drum sound without covering all your beats in booming synthetic gloss. Second, you can mix your guitars and vocals in such a way that they still sound deep and solemn, but not «cavernous» — atmospheric, yet perfectly distinctive for each and every note. Third, this way, even if your style is rather uniform, each song hasa better chance of registering because the chord sequences take aural priority over echoes, reverbs, and trying to fight your way out of this mess.

Most importantly, though, the band wrote a good album. Nothing spectacular, and predictably a lot more sleepy and sentimental than their best stuff from the beginning of the bizarre decade, but really, having re-cut their teeth on those Stripped arrangements, Burgess, Fielding and company found enough genuine melancholy and anger in themselves to put out a set of meaningful and moderately catchy songs that take off more or less from the same platform on which they landed Strange Times — without that record's epic flavor, perhaps, but also without its tendency to slip into endless dull meandering.

A good pick to quickly get the gist of the record would be its opening track, ʽShadesʼ. Here, we have a clever lyrical figure of speech ("pull the shades of grey together"), a solid driving rhythm (it takes some time to understand that it was nicked from Bowie's ʽMan Who Sold The Worldʼ, by which time you yourself might already be sold on the song), the band's old skill at building atmosphere from polyrhythmic layers of guitars, and boatloads of ambiguity — the overall mood can only be described as «pessimistic optimism», as its originally dark and threatening melody gradually collects itself in a near-uplifting crescendo. Nothing too flashy or unusual here, not the slightest attempt to sound «mysteriously impenetrable» or to build a brand new universe from scratch, just good old quality product that makes its honest point, then fades away. I like it.

This level of consistency is maintained throughout the entire album. The wave that carries Bur­gess now is decidedly political — fear of a neo-conservative reversal in society — but, unlike so many youngsters, these guys, having actually lived through the Eighties, know what they are talking about, and are able to deliver tunes like ʽAnyone Alive?ʼ ("Bush is back / It's a matter of fact") in a perfectly convincing manner. In a way, those jangly guitars now sound like warnings of impending catastrophes even more than they used to — perhaps simply due to better produc­tion, though. And then there are all those traces of the band's having lived through the New Romantic era — the way they croon "a little rain's going to keep on falling on me / I'm going to keep on calling to you" (ʽLufthansaʼ) is so charmingly anachronistic, you could probably give this song to A-ha and nobody would notice the swap. A bit cheesy, not to mention overlong, but somehow this heart-on-sleeve delivery over a minimalistic, endless plunking of four chords manages to be nostalgically endearing — go figure.

Like Strange Times, this new record, too, is overlong: they had every reason to ironically call the last track ʽAre You Still There?ʼ, since the previous one, ʽMiracles And Wondersʼ, ends with a lengthy sci-fi / ambient collage that is more worthy of a soundtrack to a documentary on space exploration or aquatic life than a nostalgically and politically charged neo-New-Wave album; and on the whole, the album is way too slow and quiet so as not to lull you and cradle you and make your attention wander. Nevertheless, it still gets a thumbs up — it's the real thing, not a poseur's act and not a flat attempt to sound exactly the way they did before, simply to pay service to the small handful of loyal fans from twenty years ago. One of those decent comebacks that have no chance whatsoever to be recognized and remembered on a large enough scale, but totally worth the time of anybody wondering how it is possible for a decent oh-so-Eighties band to legitimately update its sound for the rather amorphous twenty-first century.

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