Record Review: The Chameleons – “What Does Anything Mean? Basically” UK CD [part 2]

The Chameleons L-R: Dave Fielding, Reg Smithies, Mark Burgess, John Lever

[…continued from last post]

Was there ever a Post-Punk title more appropriate than “Looking Inwardly?” The music, more than lived up to the promise in such a moniker with cascades of drums and guitars building to powerful crescendos as Burgess, laid down his ethos. While “Singing Rule Brittania” was the only single released in the UK from the album, “One Flesh” went as far as a French promo 7″ that will set you back three figures today. The dreamlike guitars tumbled on a long delay until the middle eight, where the sound tightened up and the drums dropped out for several bars before new, more complex rhythms asserted their place in the second half of the song.

“Home Is Where The Heart is” was erected on an foundation of military tattoos and swells of shimmering synths. The guitars joined eventually to toughen up the sound, but only somewhat. The spotlight was mostly for the rhythm and the cinematic clouds of synth. At this point in the album, I was thinking of another album from about the same time period that I also loved and also trafficked in a similar brand of atmospheric Post-Punk and theme: “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns” by Killing Joke. In fact, it can be argued that there were even vocal similarities between Mark Burgess and Jaz Coleman. Let’s say that they are concerned with the big picture and were definitely not crooners. The modulating synth figure that was all that remained of this one by its coda was as chilling as anything Killing Joke might have done around the same time.

The closing “P.S. Goodbye” was a more placid note on which the album originally ended. The guitars were gentler and the instrumental coda with the synths predominating was almost wistful for this otherwise melancholy album. But this CD was the 1995 edition and there were two bonus tracks appended to the running order that were not on the original vinyl.

Statik Records | UK | 12″ | 1985 | TAK 29/12

The Chameleons originally were signed to CBS Records in 1981, and released one single that year, “In Shreds.” Their debut as produced by Steve Lillywhite but they had a difference of opinion with the label and left for other climes. Ending up at Statik instead. In early 1985, prior to this album, Statik re-released the debut single and the A/B-sides of the 7″ single were added as bonus tracks.

“In Shreds” was a more rough and tumble affair without any of the synthesizer stylings of the current album. It was a bit closer to the 1981 Killing Joke mark. The drums were more brutal and the guitars less tranquil. As for Burgess, he always gave it his all, no matter how polished the music might be. By the song’s end here he was screaming “you’ve become part of the machinery” with acute venom over the pounding drums and circular guitar riff that wound up disappearing into the singularity of sound that ended the song.

“Nostalgia,” by turns, was a more laid back groove. Burgess was not shouting here and the melody was far less dark, even if the lyrics weren’t. The addition of these songs on the album served to point out how much development of sound the band had undergone in four years. The slight sprinkling of synths here were seeds that had obviously taken root in the intervening years.


It’s kind of ironic. I used to have the US LPs of “Script Of A Bridge” and “Strange Times,” But sold those off a generation ago with the intent of getting them on CD. Particularly when I found out that’ “Script Of A Bridge” had been shorn of a third of its songs time for American release! But I have never bought those CDs. I never run into them. Meanwhile, the second album, which I never heard back in the day,” is the only Chameleons album in the Record Cell today.

Listening to “What Does Anything Mean? Basically” today, I can certainly hear a lot of parallels between The Chameleons at this time and with my entry point into the world of Killing Joke. To my ears, this has the same aura of melancholy and resistance that Killing Joke were definitely exploring on the “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns” album. It’s a smoother sound delving into choppy emotional waters where society is buffeting the personae of the writers. These songs sound [as do Killing Joke’s as well] like warnings from the front lines of society’s crushing pressures.

Burgess and Coleman were each working out their response to the terrible stimuli that was being fed to them from all corners. The music wept with the ineffable sense of the loss of something precious and dignified as each singer railed against the injustice of it all. I really must try to buy those other two albums that bookend this one as I have vary fond memories of then from the era but have not heard them in decades.

I see that they are available for less than a king’s ransom, but the LPs of “Script Of A Bridge” are bearing down on three figures now. Even the shredded US edition is aiming for $50. But I’ve no interest in the LPs. What I’m curious about are the reformation era CDs. The band managed two more albums in 2000 and 2001 before parting ways once again and I’m interesting in finding out how they sound. The band was a compelling mix of dreams and nightmares; the rough and the smooth that congealed into a powerful whole.

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Record Review: The Chameleons – “What Does Anything Mean? Basically” UK CD [part 1]

Dead Dead Good | UK | CD | 1995 | GOOD CD 7
  1. Silence, Sea And Sky
  2. Perfume Garden
  3. Intrigue In Tangiers
  4. Return Of The Roughnecks
  5. Singing Rule Britannia (While The Walls Close In)
  6. On The Beach
  7. Looking Inwardly
  8. One Flesh
  9. P.S. Goodbye
  10. In Shreds
  11. Nostalgia

I first heard The Chameleons on college radio in 1983 when I was taken with the material I was hearing from their “Script of the Bridge” album. “Don’t Fall” and “Up The Down Escalator” sounded like what U2 wished they were doing; actual Post-Punk guitar rock with some blood in its veins. U2, as I’d heard them from 1982 onward, just seemed like tourists in this art space. Meanwhile Mark Burgess sang it like he meant it and the creative twin guitars of Dave Fielding and Reg Smithies sat comfortably in the Post-Punk toybox as defined by John McGeoch with echoplex and delays being used to amplify the band’s penchant for moody atmospheres.

Though the band was, for my ears, a necessary respite from the curse of too many synthesizers, the synths are in the mix, even though the albums do not have specific credits for them. But they were a minor note in this band of Post-Punk Rock. One that flirted with Gothic sounds if not specifically in lyric imagery. Their vibe was congruent to the dreamy, neo-psychedelia of certain Bauhaus tracks or “Kiss In The Dreamhouse” era Siouxsie + The Banshees; which pointed once again to McGeoch. But this sophomore album disarmed by opening with a brief ambient instrumental, “Silence, Sea And Sky,” which was all synths.

That all changed once the driving yet dreamlike “Perfume Garden” got underway. The drumming by John Lever was decidedly motorik in style, though the guitars were split between lyrical phrases and an atmospheric haze of sound that in other bands would have been relegated to synths. But with two guitarists they had strings to spare. Listen.

“Intrigue In Tangiers” lived up to the premise of its title as the song stepped into the spotlight with seashore foley sound effects and gentle acoustic guitars eventually giving way after 45 seconds to the more typical heavier drums and guitars. At least until the point where the acoustics returned with a vengeance and held sway until the song’s finish.

The intensity went further than just “intrigue” on the more forceful “Return Of the Roughnecks.” The darkly cinematic vibe showed the album at the flashpoint where it went from smouldering to fully aflame. The thunderdrums were pummeling in their motorik fury and the guitars managed to bite even as Mr. Burgess unleashed his full angst on the indignities of the time. Which, after 36 years, remain with us still.

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 pissing in the water

Return Of The Roughnecks

the-chameleons-singingrulesbrittaniauk12a

There were only two singles from this album period and “Singing Rule Brittania [While the Walls Close In]” was a dreamlike swell of guitars as the beat faded in to the intro here. The track coalesced into a paradoxical sound that both surged forward and remained locked in stasis as the rhythm guitar descended on the downbeat and the harmonic guitar rose on an upbeat. Burgess’ bass got space in the mix to step out between these extremes on the middle eight. It sounded more like a deep cut than what one would expect for a single. Perhaps its simplicity of construction led to it being chosen as a single.

Comparatively, “On The Beach” sported a stronger, more developed melody while still offering a sound that didn’t stray far from the band’s target of a bruised, world-weary melancholy that still carried the seeds of defiance within. That Burgess managed to have his singing hit rare major keys in the song’s climax was the biggest surprise on this consistent sophomore album.

Next: …Of Flesh + Hearts

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Record Review: The Vapors – “New Clear Days”

The Vapors duotone in green
Vintage Vapors L-R: Steve Smith, Howard Smith, David Fenton, Ed Bazalgette

I’m trying to remember exactly when and where I first heard The Vapors. I can distinctly remember seeing the video for “Turning Japanese” on the syndicated music video clip show “Rockworld.” But had I heard it on the radio prior? Hmmm. I can’t really say. I think it made the FM Rock airwaves…possibly. [Maybe Mr. Ware can help me out here…?] I do recall that as soon as we heard this jaunty slice of crisp pop that we made “New Clear Days” the album of the week to buy with our “lunch money.”

the vapors - turningjapaneseUK7AThe album started with the big hit single right up front, which was different from the usual US label gambit of placing the breakout single at side two, track one. How many times have you heard “Turning Japanese” in the last 41 years? I can only say that the song is too crisply arranged and performed to generate any contempt of even that level of familiarity I still love the detuned synth hooks after the middle eight and the joyous guitar solo [complete with crisp rim hits from drummer Howard Smith ticking like a time bomb] as the song neared its [ahem…] climax. And the cold ending was New Wave personified. It’s no wonder why the song made #3 in England, but the #36 it made in the American Top 40 was higher than I knew of at the time, as I was off of pop radio. As David Fenton says, “better a one-hit wonder than a no-hit wonder!”

the vapors - waitingfortheweekendUK7AIt was good sequencing hearing “Sixty Second Interval” immediately afterward. The subtlety and chilled out tempo allowed the tasty bass soloing of Steve Smith to grab some spotlight in the gentle atmospheric tune.”Waiting For The Weekend” boasted nicely arranged backing vocal “oooohs” but the sentiment here was a little tired for 1980. This was the one track here that I was indifferent to back then and it’s still one of the lesser tracks 41 years later.

“Spring Collection” was one of those songs that always seems fresh when you hear it. Maybe that’s down to it having quite a varied collection of component parts that were thrown into the pot and an arrangement that resisted easy resolution. Really, only the chorus had that anthemic pop sensibility up front.

Side one ended with the pensive and beautiful “Letter From Hiro” that really stretched out for an expansive 6:15 without feeling it at all. The influence of The Jam really leaned on Fenton’s vocal in the first verse where he bitterly repeated the word “nothing” six times in a row for emphasis and really sounded like Paul Weller there. It bears mentioning that John Weller [Paul’s dad and manager] also managed The Vapors and the crossover between the groups continued as far as them opening up for the “Setting Sons” tour in 1979 as well as trading off producers amongst teach other. Vic Coppersmith-Heaven produced “New Clear Days,” apart from the early single [“Prisoners”] added to the US edition as otherwise produced by Peter Wilson.

Side two didn’t have the big hit but it had the intended follow up, which inexplicably stiffed at #44. That was a shame because “News At Ten” was a pithy look at the distance between the generations; each stuck in their own ruts and uncommunicative. While the lyrics delivered an impasse, the chiming guitars and taut rhythms of the song spoke of tightly coiled energy pushing outward. Once more, Fenton really bit the lyric in the middle eight; sounding very much like Weller in his delivery.

But you don’t wanna sit tight, you don’t wanna play it cool

You don’t want a whole life like the first day of school

And I wanna fight wars, and I wanna die young

So, don’t keep saying “Like father, like son!”

I can’t hear you (Still, I can’t hear you)

You make no sense to me

News At Ten

If it wasn’t apparent from his rooster-red spiked mullet, David Fenton was a dyed-in-the-wool Bowiephile, even though this music was far more redolent of The Jam rather than the Thin White Duke… with the exception of the giveaway harmonized drums in “Somehow” which were ripped screaming from the “Low” album. The evasive pop tune really only congealed on the poppy chorus with the rest of the song being the outlier to chillier Post-Punk climes than typically present on this New Wave album.

The band’s debut single was the more stripped down affair of “Prisoners,” as produced by Peter Wilson. Since the tracks “America” and “Cold War” were stripped from the running of the UK edition of the album for the American market, United Artists America opted to include this catchy single in their place. The crisp little number was perceptibly less lush sounding than the other ten tracks, perhaps pointing to the conceit of recording a debut single cheaply at DJM Studios, which was primarily a demo studio. It can certainly be heard in the drums, if nothing else. That said, the band certainly had the goods to make for a noticeable debut single while holding back “Turning Japanese” as their potential calling card a bit later. The BVs were nicely harmonized together and the break in the middle eight stuck like glue.

The urgent “Trains” was ideally placed in the penultimate position for the album on side two. The relentless drums got some great interplay from the piano subtly syncopating with the bass line. There was a light smattering of keys and synths on the album, and I wondered who played them, but the credits were silent on the matter. As snappy as things were for “Trains,” the tempo was kicked even higher for the concluding “Bunkers.” The rhythm guitar adopted a modified reggae skank line for this one and the bass was afforded the space for a strong hook. I can sometimes hear the influence of Bruce Thomas when paying attention to the bass on this album. And can that ever be a bad thing?


the vapors - vaporisedUSCDAThis album was a real winner back in the day and it has aged rather well. The US edition as reviewed here plays out at a tight 37 minutes. Amazingly enough, I’ve only ever owned US copies of this album, with the LP, the 90s “Anthology” CD and finally, the “Vaporized” omnibus edition, with “Magnets” also added to the program. I saw the 2000 Captain Oi CDs of their two albums [with the requisite bonus tracks] just once, back in the day when my priorities were something else that day. And astoundingly, only when researching for this post did I learn of the two songs on the UK edition [“America,” “Cold War”] that were removed for the American market. Gee… I wonder why? Not for nothing did the band adopt the US spelling of their name, which I always wondered about. It seemed like the eye was always on that prize from the beginning.

In the typical fashion, the running order of the US/UK editions of “New Clear Days differ wildly from each other. Not only are songs removed/replaced on the US edition, but the entire running order of the two albums were completely changed.

“New Clear Days” UK Edition“New Clear Days” US Edition
1. Spring Collection
2. Turning Japanese
3. Cold War
4. America
5. Trains
6. Bunkers
7. News At Ten
8. Somehow
9. Sixty Second Interval
10. Waiting For The Weekend
11. Letter From Hiro
1. Turning Japanese
2. Sixty Second Interval
3. Waiting For The Weekend
4. Spring Collection
5. Letter From Hiro
6. News At Ten
7. Somehow
8. Prisoner
9. Trains
10. Bunkers

the-vapors-live-BBCI’m very curious to hear the missing tracks, but I see that all of this and more are available on iTunes, so I think that one day soon, a Vapors compilation taking in the missing two tracks from “New Clear Days” as well as the different A/B sides. And I also see that a BBC transcription album from 1981 is also available on iTunes as well with a half hour of tracks from a 1981 show at the Paris Theatre. So this will likely be a packed CD worth of material. And as if that wasn’t enough, on this Friday, the 16th of April, 2021 there will be a new remix of the title track to their “Together” album of 2020 out at all the usual points of entry. The band remixed the track with producer Steve Levine and are said to have put an injection of brass into the song this time.

the vapors together 2021 remix cover
 art
Steve Levine 2021 remix coming on April 16th [two days]

So it may be a little premature, but it looks like I might have to split the “Case Of The Vapors” rarities collection across two discs. Kind of irritating when it’s just barely over the 80 minute mark, but that’s what it looks like at a quick glance. At the very least, I’m happy to know that my copy of “Magnets” was not adulterated in the slightest for American consumption and will work just fine for me from here on out. It’s just a little surprising to discover 41 years ex post facto that “New Clear Days” had been so vigorously altered for the American market. Once I get those two tracks I’ll have to make a playlist and listen tot he UK running order to see how it compares to what I’ve known for half a lifetime.

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Midge Ure Finishing The 1980 Tour With Worldwide Streaming Finale

Midge Ure is finishing the job so that we can all partake

Let it not be said that the covid-19 era hasn’t had some slight upticks in the way that live shows were handled. While nothing beats the excitement of a real concert, the painful fact is that most of the concerts that I would like to attend are thousands of dollars away from me, often in different countries. The web streaming gig has managed to make these shows accessible to those without the financial or practical ability to attend such gigs for nominal costs.

It was two and a half years ago when the tour wherein Midge Ure was playing a set with the full “Vienna” album and highlights of the “Visage” album; both from 1980 first manifested. At the time I held no hope for seeing the show. Hoping that a CD might be released of it, but when the tour got scuttled in March of 2020, before its conclusion at the end of its OZ leg, it looked like that was the end of that. Like everything else, the great disruptor of 2020 brought the curtain down.

But by the end of last year Midge Ure had started his Backstage Lockdown Club on Patreon, where for a modest monthly fee, fans got two live acoustic sessions of 10-12 song length, Q+A and direct feedback from the very hands-on Mr. Ure. Word has it that the technically hands-on Ure had set up a very slick webcast environment so that he could still have some semblance of performances happening with a certain sophistication during the weirdness. Fun for some fans, but I’m not into Midge Ure without a lot of electricity. So I passed.

But it’s not much of a stretch to see that serving up a real gig like the unfinished “1980 Tour” that would be jam-packed with all of the music I was most interested in hearing Ure perform, and in the manner which I wanted to hear it could happen. To that end he’s hooked up with the Stabal platform to present his final “1980 Tour” performance on Friday, May 14, at 8:00 p.m. BST.

A glance at the last setlist of this tour revealed a setlist filled with exactly the music that I want Midge Ure to play… and “If I Was!” He started the last leg with “Yellow Pearl” and I’d pay the full price just to hear “Western Promise” live and half as hot as the LP cut! So I am very much in the target audience for this gig! Being that I am in a time zone which means that the live show will begin at 1:00 a.m. EDT I’m glad it’s on a Friday. And now that we have finally taken the step to an [old/used/”dumb”] HDTV, I can stream the ‘cast to a bigger screen than the 21.5″ iMac. So…what’s it cost?

The polo shirt
  • Livestreamed gig – $23.00
  • above +/30 day pass/encore performance/documentary – $30
  • above +/long sleeves polo shirt – $60
  • Livestreamed gig//30 day pass/encore performance/documentary/tour jacket – $65
The fleecy tour jacket

The pricing is good for me. The clothing doesn’t do much for me, though, so my only question is whether I go for the live show or the deluxe show with playback for 30 days. It’s kind of irritating about the encore [“The Voice” and “Hymn” in the last leg of the tour] being in the “executive version” only, but the ability to perhaps share the show within the 30 day window during a much earlier time with my wife just might be the thing. I’ll ask her if she’d like to watch and that will guide my hand. If any of this speaks to you like it does to me, then by all means hit that button and sign up for the Midge mailing list, and you’ll get the links sent out to you.

post-punk monk buy button

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“Heart Of The Crowd” Probes Fans’ Relationship With Simple Minds In Depth Over 40 Years

This Day In Music Books | UK | hardcover | 546 pp. | 2020

Phew! It seems like a year ago when I received my copy of “Simple Minds: Heart Of The Crowd – A Fan History” in late December of last year. The hefty tome was liberally illustrated with lots of full color photos and archival images, but my free time for casually reading has proven ascant this year [like many other years]. And I just managed to finish it a few weeks ago. Now that we’re out of the Fashiøn event horizon®, it’s time to give up our thoughts on this weighty tome dedicated to an all-time favorite band.

spreads of archival and casual photos are throughout the book

First of all, there was a huge difference between this and the previous This Day In Music book, also by Richard Houghton, I’d read earlier. The OMD book was also a fan memoir, with plenty of civilians giving it up for OMD, but that was equally mixed with thoughts of the band, it’s inner circle, and various industry types also giving weight and color to the tapestry it was weaving. “Heart Of The Crowd,” by contrast, very much minimizes the in-band and industry contributions down to a maximum of maybe 10%. With the lion’s share of the text being actual fan contributions. Some a page or more long, and others a couple of sentences.

Mick MacNeil joined the occasional insider and ex-band members where they piped in from the sidelines, but this was the fans’ book

While the participation of childhood friends and early boosters like Billy Sloan, first manager Bruce Findlay, and Richard Jobson [who shows up here far more than any member of the band; seven or eight times] gives the early portion of the timeline/narrative more heft that the bulk of the book would aspire to. The fact was that as the star of Simple Minds rose, there were less and less of these contributions. Which were like what one would get from a more typical band bio with those close to the band then shedding light on the early days.

first manager Bruce Findlay rode the rocket for almost a decade; taking the band from tiny rooms to stadia

As the band began their climb to the heights of pop stardom, the significant names tend to fade out of the narrative and take a backseat to the tales of the fans discovering and building a passion for this band. And about a fifth of the way in, my attention for the book began to flag and never recovered.

Simple Minds always have plenty of time for their fans and pix of the band with them are legion here

The side effect of reading this book all the way through is to learn more about the fans than the band. There are many tales of hardships withstood until they finally got to see their heroes play live. In some cases decades after loving their music. There were also lots of stories about friends and family members no longer alive, who were commemorated by their survivors on these pages.

Through it all the band [essentially Jim + Charlie for the last 20 years] seem to go through their days with plenty of time for the fans that keep them in the black. Whether they are filling stadiums, or playing to smaller crowds in their fallow periods, they will usually take time and efforts to treat their fans with respect and kindness. These gents are not aloof rock stars, though Kerr seems the more gregarious of the two.

Many’s the tale here of kindness shown in extending their hospitality to numerous fans. Some, they formed bonds with in the process over many years. If they had five minutes to give, they’ll try their best to make someone’s day. The last time I saw them, Jim Kerr was more than happy after their set to have a photo with my friends Kenna + Brian for their anniversary that I snapped for them. Sharing a few quips with Mr. Kerr in the process. Their solid dude status as cemented by this book is certainly one of its pleasures.

heavy rain at outdoor shows is a leitmotif of their career; never mind this book!

Another hugely recurring subtext of their 40 years comes down to the fact that whenever they played an outdoor gig, that there always seemed to be rain. Not just a shower or two, but down pourings of biblical proportions! Real Old Testament “wrath-of-god” events. If I had a nose full of nickels for every such description in this book, I’d be a wealthy man!

Ultimately, though, the book became a slog for me. There’s only so much unstinting praise about even this band that I can withstand. There’s a more interesting critical story about their journey waiting to be told, and I can count the anecdotes about how the band’s move to stadiums was a door closing on the fingers of one hand here. Ultimately, the success and popularity of “Don’t You [Forget About Me]” is, if anything in this book can be judged by, far more substantial that I’d ever imagined.

Sure, sure. We knew it was an American #1 hit and all of that, but it was really a worldwide smash. There’s no shortage of stories where that’s the fan’s fave here. And the 200+ pages afterward, covering the stadium period was tough reading for this fan. But I knew that going into the book, I suppose. If I happen to not enjoy the ten greatest years of success that band had, it would be churlish not to expect a third of the book apportioned to detailing that period. Just as it’s not a stretch to say that that decade has made all of the more gratifying music that followed in the last quarter century possible, so I must give it its due.

Ultimately, this was not really the Simple Minds book that I wanted to sink my teeth into. I’m certain that Jim Kerr will be writing his autobiography in the imminently coming years, and that it will be called “Book Of Brilliant Things;” the initial title for this book before the focus shifted to strictly a fan history in pre-publication. If I bide my time, I’m sure that the ultimate Simple Minds book will wash up on the shores of time, but if this sounds like your cup of tea, then here’s the button.

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Jan Linton + Matthew Seligman Have A Dazzling New EP In “King Hong”

jansongs | HK | CD-R | 2020 | MCR015

As we discussed the new Steven Jones + Logan Sky album yesterday, where Jan Linton enhanced the program on several tracks with his stellar eBow stylings [as well as his Zhongruan playing], it seemed like the perfect time to catch up with what Linton himself was up to lately, as I’d been advised in December of last year that a new EP was nigh. As I’ve been juggling a lot of plates lately in the covid-19 delerium we live in, I finally found the time to buy a copy recently and am deeply chagrined that it’s taken this long to hear this exceptional work. Mea culpa! Let’s get right into it without delay.

Jan Linton + Matthew Seligman: King Hong CD-R EP [2020]

  1. King Hong [Radio Mix]
  2. Low Down
  3. Famagusta
  4. Plant/Metal [Heavenly Version]
  5. Low Down [Matthew Intro]
  6. King Hong

The first track hit with maximum impact as the dazzling “King Hong” erupted out of the speakers. It was a dynamic slice of fretless bass Art Funk with a clattering, organic rhythmic base full of shaker voodoo. And it featured Linton’s vocals reaching for full Ferry lilt ca. “Flesh + Blood” for an insouciance at odds with the intense groove. That the track was a scant 3:13 makes me pine for a 12″ version that easily scraped eight minutes. The cut was referred to as the “radio mix” so I’m hopeful that one day we’ll hear the unfettered masterpiece. This is the best sound of this kind I’ve heard since “Ship of Fools” by Explorers. Fans of that caliber of roiling Art Rock intensity would do well to immediately get this EP for this track alone! Sample below!

“Low Down” was a more delicate instrumental of a loping, almost Morricone sounding rhythm and the entrance of ambient harmonica a minute did little to dispel the cinematic vibe. Then the stage set further by the stinging eBow guitar and string synths, the main theme came into play when the piano joined in, delivering a tech Western sort of track that I’d not heard the likes of since Colourbox were in full flower.

The synth-led “Famagusta” had a subtle, yet powerful presence with an ever-so-slight dissonance on the harmonic leads to make them contrast with the sturdier rhythms and guitars. The Arabic scale second movement with droning synths and faster tempos was a bolt from the blue as the song reached its fevered peak, only to deliver a false ending and coda that was downright unsettling. The ambient beauty of “Plant Metal [Heavenly Version]” revisited a cut from the last Linton/Seligman EP with a contemplative mix that was even more pastoral and lovely.

I find myself recently asking myself the question: “where has Jan Linton been all of my life?” He’s like the best kept secret just waiting to be discovered. A one man Art Rock player who can seemingly do it all, and his recordings with Matthew Seligman released posthumously, in recent months have given us an insight into the fascinating music that Seligman created when no one else was paying the bills. The DL is yours for $7.00 and the CD-R EP [$13.00] comes with two extensive liner notes as well as two bonus tracks. One of which is a longer “King Hong” which means I will need that CD-R! Purchase below if you’ve read this far.

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Steve Jones + Logan Sky Take “European Lovers” To A New Level of Ecstacy

Messrs. Jones [L] + Sky [R] don’t do anything by half measures…

It was in the summer of 2019 when we last got an album from Jones + Sky. At the time, I felt that they had reached a new plateau of sophistication and stylish verve. They had begun their pivot from Synthpop to Art Rock, and had even enlisted Jan Linton to add his fevered eBow harmonics to the mix. I said “no more Depeche Mode…JAPAN, more likely.” But I was wrong. In a year and a half marked by increasingly ambitious single releases, the duo have gone further afield from the now obviously transitional “Rotating Angels” project to experiment with an increasingly organic and holistic sound that places them closer to the Talk Talk side of the Art Rock spectrum.

Etrangers Musique | UK | CD-R | 2021

Steven Jones + Logan Sky: European Lovers – UK – CD-R [2021]

  1. European Lovers
  2. Survival
  3. When The Night Falls In
  4. Sons of Hallucination
  5. Awaken From The Dream
  6. The Girl On The 8:45
  7. Lovers + Losers
  8. Cafe Europe
  9. All Her Things Are Gone
  10. Like A Ghost
  11. Past + Future Lives
  12. European Lovers [postscript]
  13. The Shape Of Darkness
  14. Another Hallucination
  15. Politics + Gesture
  16. Lovers + Losers [Extended Remix]
  17. Lovers + Losers [Vandal Moon Mix]
  18. Lovers + Losers [May Be Horizon Mix]

It began with the stunning title track, with piano and subtle synth harmonics that paved the way for the eloquent sax of Gary Barnacle to enter the mix. Choral patches and subtle bass throb enlivened the subtle mix as low key drum machine set the contemplative mood for Steven Jones to probe into the melancholy he was defining so adroitly. The coda where Jones’ backing expression vocals wove a delicate tapestry with the airy synths of Mr. Sky, but leaving room for the gorgeous sax to have the final word.

The subsequent “Survival” proved that the opening track was no fluke. Again, the piano led with backing support from the synths, but the mood built immediately here that supported the elegant emotional thrust of the album with a subtle guiding hand. This was music for adults, not sweaty teens on the dance floor [not that there’s anything wrong with that]. I loved the treatment of the backing vocals. With the key title phrase echoing forebodingly through the song’s space. Mr. Jones’ lyrics here proffered economical haikus of emotional devastation that stuck with the listener like napalm. Matching perfectly with his superb and measured vocal performance. There was no showboating. Every factor here had been pared back to only serve the essence of the song’s theme with the utmost in economy and skill.

Only you talk of revival

Take down the sky

Mortal souls aspire to survival

Orchids blossom

Orchids die

Survival

Just when we thought they had got the clubbing out of their system came “When The Night Falls In” to provide an outlier to their dark roots. The hissing synths and growling catlike bass had some subtle 808 added to give it an insistent propulsion even as the synth leads played their cards close to their vest. Jones’ delivery was at his insinuating best here as he worked in his voiceover mode. The grandeur of “Sons Of Hallucination” still managed to thrill, even now as it sat flawlessly in the setting that the album as a whole provided for this dark jewel of a song.

Logan Sky got a chance to add some instrumental magic with the appropriately named “Awaken From The Dream” and showed that he was venturing far from his synthwave roots now. The mood set here led almost imperceptibly to a song that has really stuck with me. “The Girl On The 8:45” is perhaps an outlier to their next destination. The vibe was almost like folk song on synthesizers. Steven Jones’ haunting falsetto BVs were endlessly echoing through the halls of the number as the brief track set an incomparably vivid mood. The lyrics were from the pen of Kevin O’Dowd, who they had co-wrote with on the last album, and he’s blending well with the core duo on these excursions.

The delicate sigh of melancholy that was “Lovers + Losers” was still weaving a captivating spell and was followed by a rare cover version in “Cafe Europe.” This one was a tune from Fatal Charm; a band that I’ve yet to hear but know of their reputation as one of the many intriguing Ultravox opening acts from back in the day. This track slotted into the whole of the album effortlessly, with a slight Moroder feel to the sequenced and delayed synth lines. I had to love hearing Metal Beat from a CR79 rhythm box in there as a rhythmic fillip. The sustain drenched falestto of Jones’ BVs was luxury I was getting used to hearing.

I really enjoyed the melodrama of “All Of Her Things Are Gone” as the song became stuck in my cranium for hours at a time. This one was mostly piano melodramatic stabs of orchestra; being the one point in the album where the band’s developmental Depeche Mode DNA still manifested in a very “Music For The Masses” way. But perhaps that was indicative of where their developmental curve was in that they no longer referenced the sound of “A Broken Frame” and had moved considerably upstream.

The penultimate track was the windswept melodrama of “Past + Future Lives” that viewed the doomed romance of the album theme through a karmic lens that I loved hearing Mr. Jones bring to the game. Such a late-period Roxy Music elegance here. As with many of the album tracks, it was led melodically with more piano and voice predominating. As suggested by several other songs, this time there was no there was no rhythm here at all for a breathless stillness, poised in a single moment in time.

Then the reprise of the title track as a spoken work atmospheric redux brought this perfect album to its conclusion. This was abetted by the sterling eBow stretching through time from guitarist Jan Linton. The organics that Linton and Barnacle brought to the album were pivotal in the shift of direction that the band are aiming at.

The joy of Steven Jones + Logan Sky is that they are growing together in synch with each other. Their ambitions posit them as peers to one another as they mutually up their respective games to dramatic new levels each time out. One thing that occurs to me as I listen to “European Lovers;” the recent notion I had of compiling a career best of would surely get uncomfortably close to the wide continuum of an album like Talk Talk’s “Natural History.”

Their earliest synth bangers would be barely recognizable as the same duo who have released this album which beckons me to hear it immediately again; even as the 12 track album [already a healthy but svelte-sounding 47 minutes] will be fully decked out with the B-sides and remixes from the two pre-release singles in its 75 minute CD-R edition of 200. The full program is what I’ve been listening to and it’s the furthest thing from a slog! What is surely one of the best albums of the year [currently my #1, actually] for a mere £4.00 at Bandcamp is ridiculously underpriced, but I recommend the CD-R hard copy with an extra six tracks [only £8.00] and it can be yours too if you hit that button below. Just do it quickly. All of their earlier CD-Rs are sold out

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