on 29 January 2010
In 1984 the Chameleons found themselves in dispute with their record company over Statik's treatment of their first album, and a parting of the ways was agreed provided the band turned in a second album before they went. "What Does Anything Mean Basically" came along in May 1985 including the short instrumental "Silence Sea and Sky", four songs previewed in a 1984 Peel session ("Intrigue", "Roughnecks","One Flesh", "PS Goodbye") a new song "Home is Where the Heart Is" and four older songs from 82/83 which had not been included on 1983's Script of the Bridge, IMHO the greatest album ever made. These were "Perfume Garden", "Singing Rule Britannia", "On the Beach" and "Looking Inwardly". Only the latter shows it's age, the band had long since moved on from it's scratchy simplicity, the others fit in perfectly. Oddly bolted onto the end of the first CD here are In Shreds and Nostalgia, both recordings dating from their brief period on CBS/Epic in 81/82. They sound out of place here but I suppose it's better to have them than not at all.
Whilst this album doesn't quite scale the mighty heights of Script Of The Bridge, it certainly comes close, only being thwarted by the overproduction which smothers some of the songs in echo and overdubs, losing much of their impact as a result. Reg Smithies' guitar which growled on the first album, just buzzes on this one, John Lever's powerful drumming gets lost beneath all the effects and overdubs, and Burgess' bass just isn't loud enough. The Chameleons basically made such a glorious noise that they didn't need "producing", less would have been more, and pretty much all of these songs sound better on the various live and radio session albums you can get hold of if you are prepared to pay enough. For example the Peel session "One Flesh" soars to the heavens where this one plods, "Singing Rule Britannia" loses the propulsion of John Lever's live drums etc etc.
Singer Mark Burgess has acknowledged that they got the production wrong, and maybe because of that the bonus CD here contains the original demos for these songs. The sound is a bit rough but deprived of the temptations of the studio mixing desk the songs sound free and untethered and can't help but make me wonder what might have been.
Compared the original Statik and Dead Dead Good CDs, Nigel Palmer has remastered this and there's more sweetness at the top, more boot at the bottom and everywhere in between has opened up considerably. However he's no miracle worker and the sound is still all a bit of a wash, but then that's how they recorded it.
Why 5 stars, well it's flawed but it's still a masterpiece, most bands can't even dream of making a record this good. It just could have been so much better...
I can clearly remember the day some kid at college lent me a tape of the Chameleons back in 1985. Up until that point, i'd never even heard any 'indie' bands. I can honestly say that from that point, I was absolutely hooked. The Chameleons aren't some jingly jangly ponsey guitar band. Instead, what we have here is one of the finest albums I have ever heard. From start to finish, they are relentless in their attack on the listener. Don't mince around - just buy this CD. You simply will not regret it. By the way - love the review here from the guy whose son has borrowed it from him. Just goes to show that their music is timeless. God bless the Chameleons.
on 26 July 2015
When I went to college in 1986, I was surprised by the number of people I met who loved The Chameleons. In the years since, I've continued to regularly meet people who hold the band in incredibly high esteem, which must surely make them the most popular band that comparatively no-one has heard of. "What Does Anything Mean? Basically" was the band's second album, following their rather extraordinary debut "Script of the Bridge".
The first track, the synthesizer prelude "Silence, Sea and Sky" gives way to "Perfume Garden", a song in many ways typical of The Chameleons' sound: the chiming, intertwining guitars of Dave Fielding and Reg Smithies; John Lever's drumming, the very epitome of solidity and drive; and Mark Burgess's bass undertow and often plaintive, pleading vocals. Burgess's lyrical themes expressed wonder at the world, yet were never far from a sense of helplessness and frustration, a wish for the world to be a better place, a despair at the way people treat fellow human beings. The album was originally released in 1985, in the midst of the Thatcher era, so such thoughts were never far from the minds of many. Burgess had an uncanny way of expressing these feelings eloquently and poignantly, though, at the point where the personal meets the political. "Return of the Roughnecks" is perhaps the album's highlight: "Shake your hand, they'll always shake your hand without a moment's hesitation. Burning bridges and snapping strands that support a generation. You want to climb but when you try to climb, you see the ladder getting shorter. You want to drink but when you try to drink, there's someone pi**ing in the water." This was how many people in the UK felt at the time: undermined, frustrated, sold short, hung out to dry.
"What Does Anything Mean? Basically" is a highly consistent album and there isn't really a duff track in sight. What hasn't stood the test of time too well, however, is its reverb-heavy production, which makes the album sound rather murky and flat compared to The Chameleons' live sound. The extra disc of demos included in this reissue strips away much of the reverb, and although a bit 'rough and ready', their sound does provide the songs with more of an edge.
The Chameleons didn't release that much music during their original lifespan (1981-87), although they have been greatly influential and have garnered a sizeable cult following over the years. You can hear their influence most explicitly with bands like Kitchens of Distinction, Interpol (a band whose first album stole The Chameleons' interwoven guitar sound wholesale), and more recently, The Black Lamps. Continued interest in The Chameleons also ensured a market for the steady stream of posthumous releases of radio sessions, live performances, demos, remastered material, rehearsal recordings and surely pretty much everything the band ever committed to tape. The band reformed in 2000, touring and sticking around long enough to release a handful of albums, none perhaps as good as their earlier material, but still head and shoulders above most other bands.
on 14 January 2004
I bought the Chamelions second album acting out of curious interest having read an article somewhere about them. I'd never heard a note of thier music before but suffice to say the album didn't leave my CD player for two months and I find myself wondering how could I have not heard of this band before?
If you are interested in the roots of indie type music in the UK, and have any appreiciation of music that is melancholy, beautifully nostalgic yet somehow at the same time incredibly fiery and intense then you should own this record. No, scrub that; you HAVE to own this record. It's the law. Bridging the gap between post punk and late eighties/ early nineties indie, this is a simply brilliant and unique album that has joined the ranks of my all time top twenty (and I own a lot of albums so that's pretty high praise). Think the Smiths crossed with Catherine Wheel's echo-ing "Chrome" (which I now think was directly influenced by this album) with a little bit of the Cure thrown in for close measure. In fact, such comparisons don't do it justice - this is a unique and brilliant album in it's own right.
You might not be pulled in straight away; this is definitely one to file under "grower". The first couple of listens left me with little more than a vague appreciation. But on the third or fourth play, as Perfumed Garden's heartbreaking guitar figure kicked in, I realised I was in love.
I'll buy their other two eighties records some time soon, but I'm going to live happily with this one for a while longer yet. Buy it and champion the cause of a lost classic. You will not regret it.
on 4 April 2002
I had the 1st and 3rd Chameleons albums, never found the 2nd until I found it here. Its brilliant. They were one of the most under-rated bands of the 80's. My son is now getting into rock music, I played this to him it blew him away! He said that some of these old bands aren't bad and has actually borrowed this from me.
This is timeless, classic rock music - if you've never heard the Chameleons buy this album, then buy the rest of their stuff - you won't regret it.
on 6 December 2002
Quite where I found out about the Chameleons is still something of a mystery. I remember seeing the artwork to 'What does anything mean? Basically' and being intrigued. I finally managed to source this album out cheap on an auction site, figuring there was nothing to lose. I need not have worried.
The Chameleons have created a superb collection of tracks, starting with the synthetic masterpiece 'Silence, Sea, and Sky' and finishing off with a fine farewell in 'PS Goodbye'. New for the CD were the tracks 'In Shreds' and 'Nostalgia', which are worthy additions (notably so with Nostalgia) if a little out of character with the rest of the album.
I must agree with one of the previous reviewers about 'Home is Where the Heart Is', a complex, slightly spooky song, which really deserved more credit than The Chameleons would have ever got with this album, a great shame.
Still, a superb album, and one I am proud to say that I own.
on 3 February 2001
when i first got this record it took over my consciousness in an incredible way.i could notget it out of my head at all during waking hours.i would walk down the street humming different melodies from it almost at the same time,smiling to myself at the greatness of it all to the bewilderment of passers by.i could not believe how great it was and how such a brilliant record could be so generally unknown to the wider record buying public.it is genuinally beautiful music and along with their many other great records it lead me to the conclusion that the chameleons are one of the few rock bands whose music deserves to be ranked with high art in the way that some classical music,paintings and sculpture are.years later i discovered that their drummer was born on the first street i ever lived on!but i adored the band years before i discovered their connections with my area.
on 31 March 2012
be prepared for something a little different from Script. If you give it time this album will blow you away. This music is still "Chameleonsy" but goes off in a slightly different tangent. Belting tunes, the more I listen the more of the album I like :) The demo versions that are included are more raw and sometimes more passionate versions of the classics you will come to know and love.
Seriously recommended for those who want to broaden their horizons whilsts banging their heads to some hardcore and subtley spiritual tunes.
on 4 October 2013
Unsung heroes of the 80s indie scene. The Chameleons paved the way for all of the following Manchester scene. This, their second album as they were pulling away from their existing record company, pushes Mark Burgess and Reg Smithies song writing ability in another direction from their stunning debut album Script for the Bridge.
Fantastic, atmospheric, powerful, stunning songs.
If you haven't heard The Chameleons you are in for a treat!
on 17 December 1999
I have this CD but haven't seen it for about a year (lent it to a mate) and can't remember all the tracks on it - but I can still heartily recommend this album. The main reason for this review is to point out the track "Home is where the Heart is" which is the song that really turned me on to the Chameleons. The song has some of the sweetest/spine timgling spooky riffs on the synth and guitar that I have ever heard - Brilliant! Also look out for Tripping Dogs a CD comprising of a studio session which is a treat.