Pleasure and Pain
A short history of The Chameleons
written by Andy N (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Originally published by 'Angry Left Wing Mofo' http://uk.geocities.com/alwm2003/
There has been a lot wrote about The Chameleons. About how they were born in the summer of 1981 during the long, hot and often riotous summer when Manchester like a lot of other inner cities were in a state of deep turmoil. I can remember myself been caught up on the outskirts of the Moss Side Riots and even in Middleton not so many years later, where The Chameleons were born. The energy, the tension was always there. The loneliness. The despair. It was always there, it was only natural like Joy Division some four years before, somebody would take it a stage further.
Take "MonkeyLand" from their first album "Script of the Bridge" (1983). Like "Don't Fall" and "A Person's not safe anymore these days" - these are songs where ghosts walk among the alienated outskirts of society looking for hope and often finding none. Like the most alienated songs of Joy Division or more recent bands like Nirvana, The Chameleons song's from the lyrics and even in the mood of the music, there is a lot of sadness and even schizophrenia as things often begin to build up and up slower, the guitar often spiralling seemingly out of control.
What set The Chameleons apart from a lot of bands / groups at their time and also what has followed since is this interplay between the Guitar, as much as the poetic vision of Mark Burgess, the guitars themselves almost becoming a part of the poetry. Songs like "View from a hill" is a prime example when the last four minutes of the song are a glorious example of interlinking guitars and keyboards, which is an excellent example of a classic painting with words.
By the time of their second album "What does it all mean basically?" (1985), elements of the schizophrenia had now been brushed into sheer paranoia but had also been soaked by a deep sense of melancholy. Mark himself said in interviews at the time of this album that the songs were less personal and reflected the band had been seen since "Script". However a deeper look into the album hints at a more restless nature and desire. This is suggested alone by the music, where often songs like "Intrigue in Tangiers" and "One Flesh" often would completely change mood halfway through the song into a deep sense of ambience. This would be used on "Intrigue" for example, where Mark's whispering "Where do you go?" before fading into the distance would then have twice as much power by holding back just that little bit more.
"Strange Times" (1987), their third album contains the song they are best perhaps known for "Swamp Thing", which builds from the onset of the song into a towering crescendo of guitars and keyboards before eventually Mark sings. Although the album is my least favourite out of the original three albums, there are tracks on this album such as "Soul in Isolation" or "Caution", where the tension in the music and singing is built to frightening levels far removed from the first two albums, which again is counterbalanced by the more reflective side of their writings with "Tears" or "Serenity".
After receiving best selling praise and large record sales in the states on top of a long sold out tour in the states, the future seemed promising for The Chameleons. They started recording the 4th album, and then suddenly split - the paranoia and schizophrenia that had been always so powerful in their work exploded into real life and split the band in half, leaving scars which haunted all four members for years to come after that.
And that seemed to be it. The reality behind The Chameleons was very close and similar to what happened with Joy Division. Like with Joy Division, The Chameleons were born with a singular amount of tension that reflected the times and the edginess that existed in the town and the time they came from, a energy that originally drew them together eventually perhaps with a poetic sense of irony also then drew them apart, in the process (according to the press) gave the lead singer Mark Burgess a full on nervous break-down and caused no amount of tension between the rest of the band, some of which were rumoured to be hooked on various sorts of drugs.
Their first album "Script of the Bridge" like Joy Division's "Unknown Pleasures" was recorded in a state of considerable self-doubt, uncertainty and quite likely mounting desperation. The edginess in Mark's vocals on "A Person's not safe anymore these days" was written from personal experience of Mark's early days as a Manchester City Football Fan when he get caught on several occasions in violent confrontations with rival fans.
Their third album "Strange Times" was recorded whilst working for a major record label, Geffen which allowed the band to expand and explore their sound, allowing songs like Caution to really push up-wards with the tension that had left in poetry perhaps somewhat more previously by allowing Mark to scream out, so when he screamed out - you could actually feel that final scream for itself.
As the years passed, thankfully unlike Joy Division, none of The Chameleons became another rock casualty. All of them played with a variety of groups, but that still seemed to be it.
Expect it wasn't. Out of nowhere, at the start of 2000, it was suddenly announced over the Internet that the band had re-formed and were playing a few dates at a little venue in Manchester. The night I went was incredible, 250 people packed into a venue designed for maybe a 100 and this included people who had flew in from America and Canada especially for the concert.
The night was magical for all that were there. And although the band have gone quiet again since (despite releasing a few acoustic and live albums, and one new album "Why call it anything?" (2001)), that alone like when New Order started playing Joy Division songs after a near 20 year gap was enough to grow men cry. You just had to be there, I guess.
A follow up article on The Chameleons was published at http://uk.geocities.com/alwm2003/chameleonscommentary.html.
Visit The Chameleons at http://www.thechameleons.com/