The Joup Friday Album: The Chameleons – Strange Times

chameleons-strange_timesHoly cow, where has this record been all my life?

To me, one of the greatest joys in all the world is when I find an album someone gave me at some point in the past that, for whatever reason, initially escaped my attention. I always tell people when they try to turn me on to new things, I get to everything eventually. Sometimes its a day, sometimes a month, some times five years. But I do get to it. The Chameleon’s 1986 record Strange Times is a perfect example of one that has remained just off my radar for longer than most, only to appear out of the blue recently and smack me upside the head with a newfound frenzied appreciation.

Probably somewhere around the end of the last decade my good friend Larry Evans (who is in an awesome band out of Dayton, Ohio called the Smug Brothers) and I were discussing our love of the era of British music commonly referred to as “Post Punk”. Now, I don’t know how Larry feels about labeling this particularly ripe era of British music with that phrase but I for one have grown to embrace it as one of the only genre monikers I feel comfortable with, largely because it points to a very specific time in British music history – i.e. post or after punk – as opposed to just being a nonsense buzz word christened in a boardroom by some smarmy record company exec. Larry and I met somewhere around 2004, however we really only see one another once or twice a year. But a bond made over music is often a bond for life and since that first meeting Larry and I have spent many Genesee Cream Ale fueled evenings in Dayton kitchens, passionately catching one another up on what we’ve been listening to in the interim between visits. Like my own, Larry’s taste runs a wide gamut, however inevitably the conversations almost always circle back around to that glorious Post Punk era. During one such meeting – circa 2010 if recollection serves – Larry mentioned The Chameleons. Upon my admission that although I had heard of the band for years I was for all practical purposes a virgin when it came to their music Larry swore to change that. A week or two later, shortly after my return to the West Coast, my friend sent me Strange Times. I immediately listened to the record a handful of times but as I always say, sometimes the timing has to be right, and in this particular case it was not, so The Chameleons worked further and further back in the rotation, until it all but disappeared from my radar for more than a few years.

Until about three weeks ago that is. That’s when I loaded Strange Times onto the old ipod and quickly spent the next 40 hours of that work week with the 15 total tracks in all (counting the bonus tracks) playing on infinite repeat. The immediate stand out and key to unlocking the rest of the long player was the track Swamp Thing, not just because of its dark and emotionally compelling lyrical and musical arrangement, but also because intentionally or not it perfectly conjures the tone of Alan Moore’s iconic 1980’s run on the DC comic that shares its name.

When the light of life has gone
No change for the meter
Then the king of spivs will come
Selling blood by the litre
When nothing’s sacred anymore
When the demon’s knocking on your door
You’ll still be staring down at the floor

Not too many hours from this hour
So long?
The storm comes
Or is it just another shower?

So ambiguous and yet so dangerously specific at the same time, as if Mark Burgess’ lyrics were a particularly revelatory tarot reading, stirring up the detritus of my subconscious and sending long forgotten emotional fragments to the forefront of my day to day mind. I was in love.

Despite my fixation with Swamp Thing I managed to work up the restraint to not put it on repeat and instead spent most of my time that first week using the first Chameleons track to hit me full force as fuel to propel repeated listens of the entire opus that is Strange Times. As is often the case with the stuff that hits me the hardest, each revolution of the album on my tiny device caused a new song to stand out; Caution, with its somberly poetic lyrics;  Tears – either arrangement – for its intro’s guitar work that, perhaps strangely, reminds me of Opeth’s Blackwater Park; all picked minor chords and syrupy, melodic lead work. Then there’s In Answer, which lights up the soul with its perfect melding of the kind of emotional New Wave zeitgeist that infected the soundtracks of the teen movies of that era and a brash, driving bassline that makes you stop what you’re doing and just go wherever the band takes you. The list goes on and on. As I type this I’m reaching the end of my first month being in love with The Chameleons and not only do I not see these feelings receding any time soon, but I’m planning a pilgrimage to Fingerprints in Long Beach to pick up another record by the band – any one out there have a suggestion on which to go with next?

Oh! And as always, we here at Joup implore you – if you dig these records we post please please please go out and buy them!

Tag Tommy!

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

3 Responses to The Joup Friday Album: The Chameleons – Strange Times
  1. Chester Whelks Reply


  2. Tommy Reply

    I really like “What Does Anything Mean? Basically” from 85. It starts off like some sort of surreal dream, and then just goes from there. Awesome.

    Great pick Shawn.

  3. Larry Reply

    Everything Shawn states here is true.

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