Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Chameleons - Script of the Bridge

Script of the Bridge (1983) ***

This is one BOMBASTIC album.  Big '80s all the way, emphasis on both '80s and big in every way:  cavernous drums booming as the vocalist declaims as if he's Bono hurling from his throne in the heavens, with gushingly oversized heartfelt emotions unheld in check, and the band stroking every angular guitar lick for maximum effect, as the sound washes over the ears with melodramatic intensity.

This is BIG music.

Which, once you've gotten over the arena rock shock of the opening track (the pounding "Don't Fall") and let your ears sink in, can make for an engaging sound: sonically, the textures wash over the ears soaringly enough to justify the band's outsized ambitions.  Arriving on the scene a little too late to be true innovators, the Chamelons (UK in the US, but who cares about whatever lame American band inadvertantly ripped off their name?) take inspiration from a melange of post-punk influnces - U2, Siouxsie & the Banshees, the Teardrop Explodes, U2, Joy Division, and U2 - which, in other words, makes them sound like Radiohead circa Pablo Honey or Interpol circa now.  Or in one of my snarkier moods, Simple Minds.  Or the Waterboys, probably, except I've never heard any album by the Waterboys, so what me worry?  Oh, and minus any traces of discernible humor, and minus any such notions as sonic variety.  At an hour's length (not quite the norm in the early '80s; the U.S. import was butchered to fit onto vinyl), this album feels like one big, long track.  There's enough individuality to individual tracks to make some of the songs independently memorable, but yeah - the band employ the same hyper-melodramatic approach that it takes a few listens for those individual tracks to stand out from the hot porridge of boiling intensity.

So I can safely file this away under the second tier of post-punk bands:  while they do have a unique and somewhat enjoyable, well-sculpted sound, after quite a few listens I've yet to recall one truly memorable song on this disc.  Oh, it's not as if I can't stick snatches of verses and chorus lines in my head, but none of the songs rise to the level of exceptional:  nothing here to snip out for the mix-tape.  There are plenty of excellent, even thrilling moments scattered throughout, but that's what I said - bits of brilliant moments.  There's something rather hollow underneath the bombast (as is usual with bombast), like a britely colored, puffy balloon ready to burst.  Not just the huge, cavernous sound, which is full of big holes (mixing the vocals and guitars WAY up at the expense of the bass lines creates a vast distance between all that stuff on top & the drum sound - there's a veritable canyon of emptiness between the vocals/guitars and the drums), but the emotional impact as well.  You get the feeling that the Chameleons are straining for big, deep feeling, and not quite reaching it.  Take the six-minute final track, "View From a Hill," - it mimics the feel of 'gorgeously epic' but it's all surface sheen.  A band crafting the sense of gorgeous and epic out of a fistful of elements without actually managing to create an epically gorgeous song.   As with many second-tier bands, at their best the Chameleons manage to recall the glories of their predecessors while never transcending those influences.


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