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:: The Chameleons ::
31 January 2010 / Blue Apple Music / 21 Trk 2XCD / Spotify
By Cath Aubergine

I never got the whole "remastered" thing, always considering it a conniving way of extracting yet more cash from fans for records they already owned. That all changed with the release in 2008 of the 25th anniversary edition of The Chameleons' debut album "Script Of The Bridge" - there was definitely stuff in there I'd just never noticed before. And a couple of years down the line the follow-up gets the same treatment.

Many of the songs on "What Does Anything Mean? Basically" had been staples of the live set before the band were signed, and as such it was sometimes considered to be "the leftovers" that didn't make the cut for that first album - an opinion that does this exceptional album a grave disservice. Such is the cult/legendary status conferred on "Script" these days, not least because of the swathe of early-00s bands such as Interpol who echoed its dark rumbling claustrophobia, that to many listeners The Chameleons are simply considered a post-punk-indie band, albeit a pioneering one. There's much more to them than that, though: tucked away right at the end of "Script" was a song called "View From A Hill" whose fluid, heavily delayed guitars and half-buried echoing vocals were even further ahead of their time. It would be 1989 before the sound developed into a scene, and another year before someone named it "shoegaze", by which time The Chameleons were long gone. And this second album continues where that debut left off, defining what would become the sound of a generation.

It's there in the opening instrumental "Silence Sea And Sky", a sequence of long, lush, multi-tracked synth waves which wouldn't be out of place on an Ulrich Schnauss or Maps album - never mind shoegaze, these lads invented electrogaze a good couple of decades upfront. (Although if either of the aforementioned gentlemen were to remix the track with some appropriate beats it might possibly be the best record ever. Just a thought.) It's there in the next track, old live favourite "Perfume Garden" when the complementing guitars of Reg Smithies and Dave Fielding coalesce into a watercolour wash of sound, whilst Mark Burgess sings of a half remembered childhood. And it's there at the close of the album (proper; more on which later) in the haunting echoes of "PS Goodbye" - the moment when the drums and bass crash back in towards the end being one of the most sublime moments of music this city has ever produced. Elsewhere these new sounds serve to enhance tracks closer in melody and structure to the band's post-punk-indie blueprint - the angry working-class view of Thatcherism that is "Singing Rule Britannia (While The Walls Close In)"; the brooding "Home is Where the Heart Is"; the captivating "Intrigue In Tangiers". The lyrics of the latter, Burgess later said, were inspired by conversations with an old soldier in a care home, and throughout the album his words are less direct and wider in scope than on "Script". All in all, its ten tracks comprise as perfect an album as The Chameleons made, and now it sounds even better.

What it didn't need was two older songs glued on the end. This is a relic from the first (early 90s) CD edition - like many reissues of older and shorter albums, it was considered better value for money if tracks off singles and B-sides were thrown haphazardly into the extra space on the disc. Great songs both of them - "Nostalgia" a proto-anthem for the stadiums they never got to fill, and "In Shreds" the darkest, angriest post-punk assault in their catalogue - but they don't belong here; "PS Goodbye" was probably the greatest album-closer ever committed to vinyl, and should have remained so in the digital age. With this new edition comes a second disc of demo versions of the regular album tracks - probably one for the fans, really, who'll appreciate the fact that for example there are guitar lines on "One Flesh" superior to those that made the final cut - and I can't help thinking that those extras should have been stuck on there instead. Small gripes, really, though. "What Does Anything Mean? Basically" is the sound of musical history being created. And, come to think of it, even its title pioneered bizarre use of punctuation years before Godspeed You! Black Emperor's exclamation mark got itchy feet.

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