Review Summary: While it is arguably the weakest of The Chameleons' original three albums and is definitely overproduced, it still contains plenty of beautiful melodies and catchy riffs.
The strangely titled What Does Anything Mean? Basically
is the second Chameleons album, released in 1985. What Does Anything Mean? Basically
shows The Chameleons moving away from the mellow Joy Division influenced sound of their debut, Script of the Bridge
, becoming heavier and much more synth orientated.
The success of Script of Bridge
was mainly due to the calm yet melancholy dreamy melodies and strong use of reverb and studio effects to add to the atmosphere and mood. On What Does Anything Mean? Basically
The Chameleons make even more use of these effects. Reverb and echo cover the entire album, but unlike on the debut where this was used to make the album sound fluid and dreamy, helped by the laid back and distant riffs and melodies, the effects are used to create a totally different sound here.
The music is still quite dreamy to an extent, but because the dual guitar melodies that the band are perhaps most known for are pushed to the front of the mix and the sound is more bass and synth heavy, with the synthesisers used to create most of the atmosphere. Instead of sounding mellow and relaxed like the debut it instead sounds almost claustrophobic, much denser and more bold but less aggressive. Unfortunately, in doing this the album loses what made the debut so successful, losing much of the gripping atmosphere, instead sounding overbearing and, at the very worst, difficult to listen to for too long if unaccustomed to it. What Does Anything Mean? Basically
sounds far too overproduced, and while the songwriting is often just as good as before, the best melodies are often hidden under layers of effects so the album can take repeat listens to fully appreciate.
Despite all this, The new approach works quite well at times. While not quite as subtle as that of the debut as slightly more dated sounding, there is still a strong atmosphere here due to the synthesisers. The synths are never used to play complex melodies themselves but are used exclusively to add to the atmosphere.
The production works especially well for the more obviously catchy sounding punk sounding songs such as ‘In Shreds’, but even this sounds overproduced after listening to the much more restrained but sill aggressive enough demo version from the remastered version of Script of the Bridge
’s bonus tracks. The problem here, and for all of the tracks on the album is that it sounds far too clean, with all the rough edges taken off. Many of the songs are so good though, this problem can be ignored. The riffs are all as good as ever, and there are plenty of genuinely beautiful melodies scattered throughout.
Bassist Mark Burgess sings on the album in the same haunting style as on the debut though the style is altered slightly to fit in with the ‘poppier’ music. While he is hardly the most skilled vocalist ever, his voice fits the music perfectly. Lyrically, the themes here are the same as on the other Chameleons albums. The songs are usually poetic and introspective, often focusing on themes of childhood, but political topics are also covered, including some vicious criticism of Margaret Thatcher.
While What Does Anything Mean? Basically
is the weakest of the original three Chameleons albums, it is still an excellent album full of great riffs, melodies and lyrics, and avoids sounding cheesy even if it is slightly dated at times. It also shows The Chameleons moving away from their influences, especially Joy Division, into a sound of their own.