The Blind Taste Test is where one writer gives an album they love to another writer who has never heard it before. This time, Pete Wild prescribes The Chameleons’ 1983 classic Script of the Bridge to Fran Slater
When I was younger (slightly younger than today), The Chameleons were my band. We all have those bands who we clutch feverishly to our chests, don’t we? Every Friday night me and my mates would troop to the Venue on Whitworth Street and The Chameleons were one of the bands that soundtracked that time. Their debut album, Script of the Bridge, was it for me. I loved the guitars, I loved lead singer Mark Burgess’ voice, I loved the fact that (like MES) they were under-appreciated at the time. There are songs on this record (‘Second Skin’, ‘Up the Down Elevator’, ‘A Person Isn’t Safe Anywhere These Days’, ‘View from the Hill’) that still, to this day, send a shiver down my spine. They were under dogs for me to champion. (These days they seem to have been left behind in the slipstream of Unknown Pleasures but Script of the Bridge was at least as important, at the time.) I’m not sure what someone will make of it coming to them absolutely cold (but I’m interested to find out.)
So, Pete, you are not the first person (or even the second or third person) to recommend The Chameleons to me, although you are the first that has actually managed to get me to press play. I’ve never quite got there. Something has held me back – maybe the name of the band leading me to think it’ll be something a bit too joyful 80s for me, although your intro suggests otherwise.
Anyway, I’m here now – they are a band I have been intrigued about and in 57 minutes and 26 seconds (a length that should be illegal for a Blind Taste Test) I’ll know everything I need to know.
Pressing play now…
Opening track ‘Don’t Fall’ immediately helps me understand why you have brought one of my favourite albums of all time (Unknown Pleasures) into the conversation. There’s a definite link here with the claustrophobic wall of noise, the bass that takes the lead. I’d say this song has a poppier chorus than most Joy Division, though. As the song breaks down I am reminded of The Cure, too, but I promise I won’t just spend this entire article comparing them to other bands. That said – they feel a bit like The Jam in the closing moments of the track.
Have I named every 80s guitar band yet?
As for how I feel about The Chameleons after one track, I am on the fence – perhaps better than I expected, but there will need to be some better songs on this album for me to really click with the band.
‘Here Today’ is not that song. It’s not bad by any means, and you can hear that this is a band who have influenced much of post punk music to this day. But it’s not blowing my socks off.
The beginning of ‘Monkeyland’ has me a little more interested, though – this is definitely the most unique and interesting bit of instrumentation yet and the song continues to promise as it creeps through it’s first quarter. I feel like it will burst at some point. And then, at around the two minute mark, it does – and it’s not quite as interesting afterwards.
That said, I am aware that I am listening to this after decades of other bands coming in and making similar music but moving it forward – I think I would have loved this track if I had discovered (and was actually born yet) when it came out.
An issue I am having at this point, though, is that his vocal delivery is so typically 80s that I am finding it hard to do anything other than picture the Boy George-esque singer from Adam Sandler’s The Wedding Singer as the front man.
‘Second Skin’ is the first of the songs you mentioned as a standout, so fingers crossed for this one. Mark Burgess’s vocals are a little more measured at the start of this one, so that’s a good thing for me. The guitars and percussion do sound great. Can totally imagine how mesmerising this would have been live back in the day, and this is probably the best song overall so far. Although, I’m saying that while I’m not even at the halfway point of a 6 minutes and 50 seconds long song – will it justify its run time?
No. Not really. Not for me. Drags a bit, innit.
It’s a good bit of sequencing to go into ‘Up The Down Escalator’ next. The most upbeat track so far, this is like the baby that Ian Curtis and Robert Smith could have made. It brings the poppy hint that has been lurking in all of the songs so far to the surface and sounds like a hit, even if it is still drenched in dour misery and anger. I like this one a lot.
If I was too list all of the bands that I think The Chameleons have influenced at this point, it would take up my remaining word count.
‘Less Than Human’ brings back my old concerns about his delivery. It also reminds me that, at times, this album feels very generic – but it is hard for me to know whether it is generic because so many bands have copied them since, or because it is simply a bit generic.
You tell me. Not into this song, though.
‘Pleasure and Pain’ pulls in the weird kind of noises you’d expect a song with that title to have at the start. Actually, on seeing the title, I couldn’t help but think – this is going to be a shit song. I don’t know why. I do like the bass line on this one quite a lot, though – and there is a great bit of rhythm guitar in the instrumental part. If only Burgess would stop sounding like the 80s personified.
I start being upset when I see there is no apostrophe in ‘Thursdays Child’ because that’s just the type of person I am. It’s alright, though.
Not much to say about ‘As High As You Can Go’. And as for The Chameleons, I still sit firmly on the fence at this point.
Of the three songs remaining, though, two of them do sit on your list of highlights, Pete – so there’s potential for us to end with a bang.
There’s something hypnotic about the opening of ‘A Person Isn’t Safe Anywhere These Days’. It’s the first time that the lyrics have really stood out to me as the thing about the song that I notice, and I’m definitely drawn in here. The bass and guitars do remind me of Joy Division, but that can only be a good thing. I also definitely prefer Burgess’s voice when it isn’t full throttle, when there is a bit of a sing-speak to his delivery, and that is the case for a lot of this song. And this time, when the song builds, it’s taking me with it instead of leaving me behind. A definite highlight. The final moments are the best piece of music on the album so far, an interesting change of tack that makes me wonder where they went next.
I also quite like ‘Paper Tigers’, where we again have more of a spoken word delivery at times. And the weird little vocal lick he uses on ‘they always make themselves clean’ is kind of enjoyable.
And now we’ve made it to ‘View From A Hill’. It’s nearly seven minutes long which I could do without – their longer songs haven’t been my favourite so far, and in the early parts of this one I am predicting that will end up being the case here too. Sounds like a different band. Just as I was starting to warm to them I’m sucked into some sort of New Romantics ballad. It’s slow. It’s slow. It’s very slow.
I like hills and I like views but I don’t like ‘View From A Hill’.
And that’s Script of a Bridge. I was on the fence at the end of the first song and I am very much on the fence now.
Some great moments, some cack, but overall an intriguing album that I am glad I finally spent some time with. What I will say is that the things I don’t enjoy about this album now are down to two factors. One, they are very specific to the 80s and that is not my favourite music era. Two, there are a lot of things in the music that now feel like tropes and stereotypes of a genre and while I know I shouldn’t judge them on that, that they are part of the wave that began things, I can’t help it. There are bands I have got into over the years that do these things but in a fresher, less 80s way – and I’ll probably stick with listening to them.
But this was definitely not a failure – it’s clear they’re hugely influential and I’m glad to finally have some understanding of one of the pioneers of a genre I love.
Words by Fran Slater