The Chameleons: Strange Times - Triple Vinyl 40th Anniversary (2024)

The Chameleons: Strange TimesThe Chameleons: Strange Times - Triple Vinyl 40th Anniversary (1)

Blue Apple Records

Triple Vinyl available here

The Chameleons finally release the definitive version of their classic album Strange Times on their own terms via Blue Apple. It’s how it should be in all it’s beauty and our man Stephen Canavan gets to review one of mine and his favourite groups who still sound relevant after 40 years…

It can be painful to revisit the loves of our past…

Be them the aged letter of devotion, a faded photograph of the one who got away, or the album that always meant more to you than all the others…

For memory can be deceptive and manipulative, a realm of bitter ghosts…
And what artform can conjure forth more memories than music?

But Blue Apple’s epic Abbey Road remaster of the Chameleons sublime third album Strange Times shows us that not all memory need ache to be recalled, and that some musical ghosts return to heal not haunt, being a stunning document of a band at the peak of their creative powers, aiming for heart of the sun, whilst being not afraid of the darkness that seeks to shroud the stars.

Originally recorded during a five-week period by Cure Producer Dave Allen both at Jacobs Studios in Surrey and West Side studios in London, and eventually released on September 1st 1986 to great critical acclaim, Strange Times has proved since its release to be a hugely influential and beloved record, with no less a luminary as Noel Gallagher citing the album and band as a huge influence on his own burgeoning songwriting career.

In recognition of such a luminous legacy, Blue Apple’s latest release is the definitive edition of the album, which has been lovingly remastered by Guy Massey (who also completed the acclaimed Script of a Bridge restoration) and expertly cut at the legendary Abbey Road Studios by Frank Arkwright. It features stunning new artwork by guitarist Reg Smithies, which adorns not only the deluxe, 2-disc version of Strange Times, but the 3x heavyweight vinyl triple gatefold, complete with all the lyrics on each sleeve, and is fully authorised by the band.

While previous vinyl versions of Strange Times were compromised by the running time of the LP, which is ten minutes longer than any pressing plant recommends, the band and production team took the decision to split the main album across 4 sides playing at 45 rpm, with the bonus tracks being placed on a separate record.

The album opens with the kinetic clarion call that is the frenetic Mad Jack, a compelling, rollicking opener, that is fuelled by some typically caustic, but amusingly enigmatic lyrics by Mark Burgess, lambasting the type of fellow who ‘Walks on water and is always right, and talks about the madness in Africa.’ as the propulsive drumming of the inexhaustible John Lever, and the spiralling guitars of Fielding and Smithies soar and roar through the song like dogfighting spitfires at sunset.

The evocative chiming guitars and sea-shanty rhythmic sway and glorious atmospherics of the eight minute Caution beguile to begin with, but the lyrics ache with the pain and isolating terror of addiction, leading to the angry, slightly discordant chorus, with Levers drums lurching like a drunk at midnight mass, as Burgess at his most poetic rails that ‘We have no future, we have no past, we’re just drifting ghosts of glass’ For here, even amidst the brightest, most lilting of melodies, darkness dwells…

The brittle but tender Tears follows, a ballad so haunted it needs its own exorcist, a showcase for not only Fielding and Smithies stunning acoustic guitar work, but which sees Mark Burgess deliver one of his most tender vocals and poignant lyrics, recalling wistfully at its beginning, of a better time when ‘Well…we were younger then and days were longer and slow’ a time perhaps before the loneliness and the isolation took hold, a time before the narrator feels so haunted he has to ask ‘Will the ghosts just stop following me?’ A question you feel he already knows the painful answer to.

The coruscating guitar tour-de-force that is Soul in Isolation also features some amazing
disembodied, stuttering, dislocated drumming from John Lever, that you feel must have influenced the embryonic Happy Mondays somewhere out in Salford, Burgess howling ‘I’m alive in here…I’m alive in here’ like a prisoner railing at the stone walls of his cell, trying to convince himself he is free, while those epic, impassioned guitars, writhe and wail through the outro like blinded ghosts haunting an unfamiliar house.

The anthemic Swamp Thing builds patiently through its brittle, repetitive guitar riff, and swirling bank of evocative synths, and Lever’s pounding, militaristic drums into a song of soaring, life affirming power. When Burgess sings ‘The storm comes…or is it just another shower?’ and the guitar and synths collide and change keys, it is a genuinely moving, euphoric moment.

The confident Time/The End of Time shows a band utterly in sync with its own powers, a delicious, swirling marriage of crunchy, chiming guitars and pulsing synths, while the gorgeous, softly strummed outro features a synth line that could make a mannequin swoon.

The deceptively jaunty Seriocity channels its inner Bowie to compelling affect, while the evocative, In Answer is another atmospheric slice of crystalline pop beauty, while the beguiling joyful Childhood skips like a stone over a glacial lake, and features more lovely, chiming guitar, and a committed, earnest Burgess vocal.

But it is fitting that such an epic album ends with the ethereal, gloriously atmospheric, and deeply moving David Fielding written instrumental, I’ll Remember. Here, the synths pulse and yearn, creating an intoxicatingly beautiful cloudbank of melody, which set against a backdrop of reverb heavy chiming guitars, makes the listeners heart swell and their soul soar. A truly beautiful ending…

Like the tumultuous decade that spawned it, Strange Times is a beguiling mix of contradictions, being both beautiful and brutal, despairing yet inspiring, enigmatic yet euphoric, and proving that although ghosts may yet still haunt this music, they ultimately exist to heal….

This edition also features on the bonus disc/vinyl a full arrangement of Tears, the songs Paradiso, Ever After and Inside Out, and two cover versions: Bowie’s John I’m only Dancing and The Beatles Tomorrow Never Knows.

Forewords by Wayne Carey, Reviews Editor for Louder Than War. His author profile ishere.

Words by Stephen Canavan. Find his author archivehere.

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The Chameleons: Strange Times - Triple Vinyl 40th Anniversary (2024)
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