The Chameleons were one of the fixtures of the Manchester music scene, from the mid-80s right through to the early 90s. In Mark Burgess they had the obligatory tortured genius frontman, and their songs featured an eerie echoed guitar sound that influenced a wave of bands from The Smiths to The Wedding Present.
Yes, The Chameleons were the godfathers of the jangly guitar sound, and although they never quite achieved the success they deserved, they retained legendary status in their native Manchester. Although it was to all to end in tears, with the band splitting in 1987, they put their differences aside and reformed in 2000. The comeback album was Strip, which as the title suggests, was stripped down versions of Chameleons classics. This record is, more or less, the sequel.
This Never Ending Now is basically The Chameleons ‘unplugged’, consisting as it does of acoustic renditions of some old favourites. So while this is an essential purchase for any fan, it also makes a good introduction for the uninitiated. The opening track, Fan And The Bellows is quintessential Chameleons. The guitars strum furiously, which Mark Burgess sounds rather like Tim Booth, formerly of James. The lyrics too are either poetically enigmatic or wilfully obscure, depending on your point of view – “A Beechers Brook is love/a hurdle at which greater men have fallen” for example.
The Chameleons deal in atmospheric music with emotions pushed to the fore – Swamp Thing being one of the best examples of this. However, being an all-acoustic affair means that there isn’t much variety here, especially as all the songs tend to stick to a mid-paced tempo. Yet sometimes, as on Home Is Where The Heart Is or Miracles And Wonders, the acoustic setting works beautifully (although the reggae toasting on the latter sounds completely out of place).
The other problem with the record is that it’s mostly a rather po-faced collection. The acoustic setting and rather portentous arrangements of some of the songs (such as the drawn out ending of View From A Hill) means that the album can seem rather heavy going. It takes the cover version of David Bowie‘s Moonage Daydream to remind us what a little injection of fun can add to a song.
Whether this collection will add any younger members to The Chameleons loyal army of fans is debatable. Some may say that their brand of jangly guitars has no relevance in 2002. Yet that is doing the band a mighty disservice. If you’ve heard of The Chameleons but never experienced their music, this is a good place to start exploring the back catalogue of one of indie’s most under-rated groups.