The Chameleons
Strange Times


5.0
classic

Review

by TheSpaceMan USER (40 Reviews)
May 18th, 2016 | 175 replies


Release Date: 1986 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A lasting testament to who The Chameleons were and what they were capable of

I feel bad for The Chameleons. I really do. Not because they clearly suffered from mental illness and had a very grim perspective on life as made evident by the lyrics of practically all their songs. And not because their band manager faced a sudden death so debilitating to their hearts that they disbanded almost immediately. Not even because they were forced to label their name as The Chameleons (UK) on anything and everything in the states because some progressive rock/folk band already took the name and did absolutely nothing with it. No, I feel bad for The Chameleons because their ratio of fans to good music is so low that I practically forced myself to write this review despite my massive writers block and general disinterest in writing things lately. But alas it has been said by a handful of different blogs across the internet that The Chameleons, a seemingly random post-punk 80's band, “are the best band that you've never heard of”. And while that's a pretty bold claim to make, that sentence can stand true on the merit of literally any of their albums. It just so happens that I find Strange Times to be their best work.

At the point in their career where they began to craft Strange Times, The Chameleons were finding enough success to keep them going but were somehow just out of reach of making it to a level of equal recognition amongst similar bands of their time. Which is odd, considering their sound fit in well with so many of the huge UK rock groups that dominated the 80s scene, while also not being derivative of any of it. They had the killer wall-of-sound production, that glossy yet punchy guitar tone, and the angsty psuedo-punk British accents that for some reason resonate within all of us. But The Chameleons managed to keep themselves separated by actually having a sense of awareness to their music. That's not to say bands like U2 had no idea what their sound was, The Chameleons just seemed to write music as an extension of their own expression; it seemed easy for them to write good songs. That's what made each of their albums so fascinating. Each one represented clear directions the band decided to take their music without abandoning groundwork laid by their work previous. And come time to write Strange Times, I think the band had long realized that no matter how perfect of a post-punk album they wrote, it wouldn't take off. They were just cursed or something, who knows why it was the case. This is the mindset that got them to create their most unique and arguably progressive album in their entire catalog. Strange Times is the pinnacle of the band's writing and musicianship, and gave a lasting testament to who they really were and what they were capable of. And damn are they capable.

The Chameleons manage to command an atmosphere throughout the entirety of the album that is nothing but visceral. The musicianship is the key factor in their ability to evoke these feelings, and despite the fact that they are clearly competent in their respective duties, they spare us the indulgence with a grasp on minimalism. In doing so they effectively make an album that is as easy to swallow as it is to sit back and say “dammmn, these guys are nailing it”. They use tried-and-true formula as an outline while pouring their undeniable talent into every verse, bridge, and chorus so that each second on the album fits together in its rightful place. Yet surrounding it all is an atmosphere and production so glossy and pristine, that it feels as though the analog tape they recorded the music on was dunked into a vat of ethreal pinkness (this is my attempt at metaphorical imagery, roll with it). It breathes life into every song, even ones like “Tears” which are so basic they begin to feel naked when boiled down to its base structure. Yet “Tears” is such a powerful and fully realized ballad that the guitar melody hits harder than it should, the rhythmic pounding of the skins encompasses your ears, and the blunt lyrics of missing a childhood friend cut the stomach in an anthemic way.

Speaking of lyrics, principle lyricist Mark Burgess wasn't half bad at writing them. He uses a pretty basic vocabulary, but manages to weave together and deliver his lines in ways that don't feel forced or clichéd. In fact, it works to their advantage that they remain upfront and non-cryptic, avoiding the pretentiousness that many rock bands succumb to. It gives a down to earth quality to the rest of the album, which as mentioned before is soaked in a dream-like sentiment. This provides a touch of both surrealism and humanity; two very apposing ideas that when juxtapose so fluidly, offers something very unique. Over a sliding and droning guitar lead he yells:
Quote:
Picking up the pieces
Half alive in a nine 'til five
Vacant eyes, is it any wonder?

Perhaps the best quality of Strange Times its ability to bring together its dark, somber mood with a sense of tranquility and comfort. It never feels like a storm is around you, just that the aftermath of a huge one lingers all around. It essentially romanticizes its own melancholy. Songs like the titanic “Soul in Isolation” have Burgess yelling out depressing and frantic cries for help over an incredibly rhythmic drum beat and bass line. Yet the guitar lead and echoing effect on the vocals make it seem like everything's okay, that he'll be fine. Its almost soft and enjoyable. In doing so, it brings out grim similarities to the feeling of substance abuse; a situation where the abuser is rendered immobile by the beauty and of comfort of the drug while knowing the destruction it brings upon them. The band covers topics of substance abuse both early on in the album and in songs of the past, possibly hinting at personal struggles the bandmates faced themselves.

The Chameleons succeeded in creating their peak work with Strange Times, and it almost seems fitting that this is their last effort before their eventually break-up. It marked the end of the journey they had taken the band with their previous two full lengths, at least until reforming years later with the acceptance that this was a path best left in the past. Its only deserving that this album is adored by the fans that it had managed to reach, because it truly is something worth appreciating. The effort the band put into their work is undeniable. Strange Times has become one of my personal favorite records, and I find comfort in knowing it is great enough to continue to create fans out of anyone who stumble upon it. At no matter how slow of a rate.



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user ratings (181)
4.2
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
TheSpaceMan
May 18th 2016


12424 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

seriously though this album deserves more recognition. check out the songs Soul in Isolation or Swamp Thing if you don't believe me

AnimalsAsSummit
May 18th 2016


4366 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

One of my favorite albums of all time. Post punk perfection

Digging: Teebee and K - Black Science

TheSpaceMan
May 18th 2016


12424 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

truly is man

StarlessCore
May 18th 2016


6998 Comments


script is best post punk

Digging: Mefitis - Emberdawn

TheSpaceMan
May 18th 2016


12424 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I find this to be a slight bit better, but you can't go wrong either way

TwigTW
May 18th 2016


3825 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

"Now the storm has come, or is it just another shower?"



This is a great album from the 80s, one of my favorites. I like it better than Script Of The Bridge (but that's great too). The "dark, somber mood with a sense of tranquility and comfort" describes it well.



TheSpaceMan
May 18th 2016


12424 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

appreciate it man, thanks for the pos

larrytheslug
May 18th 2016


1587 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Amazing band.

InfamousGrouse
May 18th 2016


4341 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Woaaaaah this got a review

PappyMason
May 18th 2016


5702 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Their best album for me.



There's a lot to write about the music, so it's a bit of a shame you didn't cover it.



In doing so they effectively make an album that is as easy to swallow as it is to sit back



The first of half (roughly) of this album is quite claustrophobic, maybe one of the reasons why this album didn't take off. The band deserved to be massive!!

TheSpaceMan
May 18th 2016


12424 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Like I said in the review, I was facing some trouble finding the right words for this album. When you say I didn't cover the music, I'm not sure I get what you mean... like as in the lack of direct references to the music? Its not like I literally did not cover anything on the music. I'm open to editing this a lot based on any feedback because I'd like to do the album justice.

I personally disagree with your last claim and think the first half is actually the easiest to "get into", especially with the first song being a typical rocker and Tears being the most accessible on the album, and Soul and Swamp Thing being the best songs. I mean the second half is definitely more mellow, but it also tends to blur together a little more for me. I understand why you think that way though.

Anyways, thanks for the feedback mate! Really do wish these guys made it big.

zakalwe
May 18th 2016


29303 Comments


Nice one space

TheSpaceMan
May 18th 2016


12424 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

thanks bro, you ever checked these guys before? they seem up your alley

PappyMason
May 18th 2016


5702 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I just meant that a lot more could have been said about the actual music and the songs. Not a serious criticism.



This album is very much one of two distinct halves. For me the first half is quite dark, and claustrophobic (as I mentioned), and the second half is light and breezy - almost dreamlike.



Burgess' lyrics are fantastic too - as you point out.



I should have reviewed this a long time ago, so props for writing about it. It really is a brilliant album.

zakalwe
May 18th 2016


29303 Comments


@space

Yeah man I dig. The Reegs who formed after these broke up have done one of my all time fave covers. 'See my friends'
If any of you haven't heard it spin it now!!!!!

TheSpaceMan
May 18th 2016


12424 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

@pappy thanks again man, its really nice to hear about the review. you're right, a lot of space was spent introducing the band and where they were in the career when writing this. I wrote it with the intended audience being a new convert who found the trippy album cover and clicked on it haha. and the more I think about it, the more I come to agree with the claustrophobia. Definitely intended, but to someone whos not into that style it could be off-putting. there isn't a lot of breathing room save for Tears. and yeah "dream-like" was a phrase I struggled to not overuse throughout the review, its just so damn fitting



@zak gonna check that asap

PappyMason
May 18th 2016


5702 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I like how you refer to death in the review. The way the album is structured it's almost like seeing light at the end of the tunnel (to use a cliche).



I also love how the last track on the album isn't actual a proper track - the ending of it is almost like someone's life is flashing before their eyes (another cliche!). It's little things like that that make this album so special for me. Especially since on their debut the band wrote one of the best album closers ever in 'View from a Hill'.



I might still try and get my review out for this at some point. Never have time anymore...

StarlessCore
May 18th 2016


6998 Comments


script of the bridge is literally a 10/10 masterpiece

greatest hits album for post punk

TheSpaceMan
May 18th 2016


12424 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

'I also love how the last track on the album isn't actual a proper track - the ending of it is almost like someone's life is flashing before their eyes (another cliche!). It's little things like that that make this album so special for me'



I agree 100%. Always found the ending of this album to be perfect. its almost saddening and terrifying while also being peaceful and welcoming.



'I might still try and get my review out for this at some point. Never have time anymore...'



I'd love to hear what you have to say, seems like you have a lot to talk about with this album. now I get what you meant about covering more of the music. the little details truly do matter

PappyMason
May 18th 2016


5702 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thanks man. A couple of years ago, I was obsessed with this album. It's a bit of shame that this isn't more well known on here, I'm sure that everyone would love it.



I live in Manchester so this band is legendary for me.



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