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Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Chameleons: This Never Ending Now


1) The Fan And The Bellows; 2) Tears; 3) Intrigue In Tangiers; 4) Is It Any Wonder?; 5) Seriocity; 6) Swamp Thing; 7) All Around; 8) Second Skin; 9) Home Is Where The Heart Is; 10) View From A Hill; 11) Moonage Daydream.

One album can be just an accident, but two constitute a tendency: I may just be right in my sus­picions that The Chameleons actually did not think much of the production on their original albums themselves — so here you have another big bunch of acoustically based re-recordings,  mostly of tunes from the band's «softer» albums, but not necessarily so: the record opens with ʽThe Fan And The Bellowsʼ, energetically driven forward by the percussion of the now-returning John Lever, but otherwise completely dependent on acoustic rhythm and lead guitars. Also, there are two alternate versions of songs from Why Call It Anything? (ʽAll Aroundʼ seems to just be an alternate mix of the original; ʽMiracles And Wondersʼ is genuinely converted to acoustic mode and detached from its lengthy ambient coda); ʽIs It Any Wonder?ʼ, re-recorded from a rare original off their 1990 EP Tony Fletched Walked On Water; and an out-of-the-blue cover of Bowie's ʽMoonage Daydreamʼ because... because they like David Bowie.

Second time around, though, this is not nearly as touching as the effort they made with Strip. The approach is no longer so fresh and unpredictable; more importantly, the songs themselves were not too good to start with — I mean, ʽView From A Hillʼ was really just a drawn-out mood piece to finish Script Of The Bridge on a solemn note, and like it or not, it was one of the few songs where the production, with its multiple layers of keyboards and guitars, really made sense; here, it is largely reduced to some interminable chuggy acoustic plunking and light-solemn vocal harmonies that would fit in better on, say, an AIR album than here. Likewise, the one good thing that I remembered about ʽSwamp Songʼ was its slightly spooky froggish guitar croaking; here, it is transformed into acoustic country-blues that is about as exciting as any similar acoustic number on a Bonnie Raitt or a Sheryl Crow record.

One song where the acoustic difference really makes a great difference is ʽSecond Skinʼ, whose formerly distant romantic electric guitar riff, transposed to the acoustic setting, has gained in volume and clarity — yet I am not so sure if the new approach is better, because the distant original was more «spaced-out», reaching out to you like some distant star, or a comet swooshing by. That spaced-out atmosphere is only reconstructed by the band at the very end, once they launch into their version of ʽMoonage Daydreamʼ — still more of a humble tribute to the creator than a daring reinvention, but with an interesting take on the solo part (no Ronson-esque alien fireworks, more like a quiet post-rock dissolution of electric current). Bad news is, ʽMoonage Daydreamʼ alone is still better than all the Chameleons songs put together, so that on my second listen I could not wait for all that stuff to end so that Mark Burgess, too, could declare himself an alligator. Which, to be frank, he never really was.

Considering that The Chameleons broke up once again soon after this record's release, never re­convened for another big project in the next fifteen years, and that, as of now, John Lever is dead and buried, it is a safe bet that This Never Ending Now has fulfilled its promise and become the last (semi-)original Chameleons release we will ever see (although Lever and Fielding did make another album together two years before Lever's demise). A bit sad, since Why Call It Anything? did show promise and proved that the band members' talents survived into the 21st century; then again, with all this focus on reinventing their legacy, they might not really have had it in them to create new material on a regular basis. In any case, these acoustic albums are a decent last gift for those of their fans who, together with the band, had outgrown the excesses of Eighties' techno­philia and regained a taste for less synthetic-sounding instrumentation — and, perhaps, a chance for those of their fans who have not outgrown it... to reconsider and repent.

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