Monday, September 19, 2011

strange times

These Manchester post-punk shape-shifters made the majors with this dark and moody reflection of a world of madness, alienation, death, and redemption. The Chameleons had just signed with Geffen Records and decided to work with Dave Allen, who had produced albums with the Cure. 'Birdy' Burgess recalls: "The album was recorded at Jacob's Studio in Surrey, south of London over a period of five weeks. Again the material was only loosely sketched and we didn't really have any idea how the album would turn out. We'd spent a month or so getting the ideas together living in a small house in the Lake District of England and rehearsing the ideas in a school hall, specially hired, just outside the village of Hawkshead. The lyrics and vocals were usually worked out the evening before or the day of the vocal take." Though none of the singles broke the top one hundred, 'Strange Times' made it to number forty four on the British album chart.

'Swamp Thing' became an underground hit in the US. Mark calls it "Definitely one of my favourites from everything we did. I'd had the chords of the chorus, which Dave had come up with, running around my head for some time and knew, when the time came, what I'd sing to it. John and Reg meanwhile, had jammed out what were to be the verses and, not knowing what to call it, had named it 'Swamp'. When it came to working it out I started singing over it and then suggested we switch to the chorus idea. It was one of the quickest songs we ever did. It was recorded some months earlier in London and remixed for the album. I was dissatisfied with my own voice and it was suggested I stop smoking for a couple of days. I did and didn't light up again for about a year. Lyrically I regard it as a true prophesy."

"Now the world is too much with me
Please leave, just go away
Before I lose my mind completely
Just leave, please go now
Now nothing's sacred anymore
When the demon's breaking down your door
You'll still be staring down at the floor"

Birdy says: "A few months prior to starting 'Strange Times' I'd lost a very old and dear friend to cancer. At that time it was the hardest blow I'd ever been dealt and I wanted to write something specially, the idea 'Tears' originally 'Tears Are Not Enough' seemed perfect for it. I think it had been earmarked as a single by both the producer and the label from the word go, hence the first 'rocky' version, which I liked up to a point, but it didn't quite capture what I'd had in mind and so I argued and eventually got, an alternative treatment. The studio was residential but the producer chose to commute each day from nearby London. We chose to continue working into the night and it was the band and the engineer that put the track together, the producer then coming in on the mix. Personally, the night we recorded it was one of the highlights of the album."

"From the window of my room now
I can see the colour blue now
You can't even look in my eyes now
What would you see?"

Burgess says for 'Caution' "the vocal was completely spontaneous, nothing actually written when I stepped up to the mike to do the take. I'd tried to write something down but to be honest I was struggling and decided to use a 'stream f consciousness' approach, which involved a litre of wine in a very dark vocal booth. We did about six takes all in all, each completely different, but I could tell from the Producer's voice on the intercom that we had something special. I'd placed a glass on the floor, in the dark, and during te takes I'd somehow broken it without realising and cut myself. The Producer and engineer couldn't see me so when it was finished they drew back the curtain and turned on the lights to find me covered in blood, they thought, I think, that I'd been mutilating myself in the name of method performance. I did nothing to kill the myth :-)"

"We have no future, we have no past
We're just drifting ghosts of glass
Brown sugar, ice in our veins
No pressure, no pain"

For 'Soul In Isolation' Birdy says, "The original idea was taken from one of the first things we did together, demoed but never actually finished, entitled 'Dear Dead Days'. We re-worked it in rehearsals and came up with this. I start singing the original lines at the end of the song. We were struggling to kick start the song following the intro when John came up with the stabs, which I absolutely love. The lyrical idea was inspired by one of my all time favourite books 'Star Rover' by Jack London, which at that time I'd never heard of. It was the Producer Dave M Allen that gave it to me."

"In total isolation
Surrounded by fears
Too many clowns, too many tears
Surrounded by crowds
In another world, head in the clouds"

'Ever After' was one of the tracks on the six song bonus twelve inch that was included with early pressings in the US.

"Disguise and distort all you will
I'm burning up I can't stand still
I'm finding out I always will
For ever after."

'Strange Times' 
full album:

All tracks written by The Chameleons (Mark Burgess, Dave Fielding, Reg Smithies and John Lever), except as noted. 

Side A
1. "Mad Jack"   3:55
2. "Caution"   7:46
3. "Tears"   5:05
4. "Soul in Isolation"   7:28
Side A+
5. "Swamp Thing"   5:56
6. "Time/The End of Time"   5:41
7. "Seriocity"   3:00
8. "In Answer"   4:54
9. "Childhood"   4:39
10. "I'll Remember"   3:39

bonus EP tracks
11. "Tears"   5:10
12. "Paradiso"   4:35
13. "Inside Out"   3:34
14. "Ever After"   3:59
15. "John, I'm Only Dancing"  David Bowie 2:30
16. "Tomorrow Never Knows" John Lennon, Paul McCartney 6:08

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