For fans of the cult film Donnie Darko, this release may be a pleasant surprise. Richard Kelly’s 2001 film uses the music of many bands that sound like The Chameleons, but who received more commercial success: Joy Division, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Church. A lot of these bands are British, and there’s a Thatcher era gloom to them that still resonates, thanks to the continuation of neoliberal financialization. But the current economic climate is not the only reason that this release still sounds good today. There is a violent desperation in vocalist Mark Burgess’ voice that is, simply put, human. And, after all, one of Kelly’s main artistic achievements with Darko is his accurate depiction of the way that suburban life alienates many of its young inhabitants.
With rustic riffs, atonal yelps, and a distinct, period aesthetic that exudes originality rather than imitation, The Chameleons are an appropriate soundtrack to the frustrations and grievances induced by the constrictive conformity of suburbia. Nevertheless, the group emerged from Manchester, a working class, postindustrial city, and while they may satisfy a certain aesthetic familiar to many arty, middle class Gen Xers who aspired to escape their provincial upbringings, their wider appeal may be attributed to the most prevailing them of their music, that is, a constant appeal to triumph and cheer in the often grim face of social reality.
Though there are plenty of great tracks on this release- there’s the nonchalant urgency of “Things I Wish I’d Said,” the space synth excursion of “Prisoners of the Sun,” and the jovial cruise of “Nostalgia” (the titles of their tracks, as you can see, often match the content)- it doesn’t scream originality or innovation. The Chameleons sound a lot like the Replacements- who were known for being wasted all the time- if they were just buzzed. Many well-known British indie bands of the era were more angst-ridden than the Chameleons, making their style of dreamy garage rock rare and endearing. Casual fans will be content with The Smiths and The Replacements, but for assorted music nerds, Anglophiles, record collectors, and eighties enthusiasts, The Chameleons’ unassuming post-punk in the collection delivers a fine contribution to an era of music that underwent the earlier stages of punk’s commodification, a process that has been completed for some time now, despite what your local scene kids will tell you. Oedipal rage might be universal, but it is still possible to quell, in order to transcend the mediocre stage of late adolescence. The Chameleons might not have been there just yet, but they made some laudable progress, and if an experience changes you, what else can you ask for?