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Music / The Chameleons

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See this, freak out
Nothing's familiar
And nothing seems to fit into the scheme of things
Seeing faces where there shouldn't be faces
No-one's really certain what tomorrow brings
Don't fall, my friend
"Don't Fall", Script of the Bridge

The Chameleons were a British post-punk/goth rock band from Middleton, Greater Manchester. They were formed in 1981 and were active from that year until 1987 before splitting in the aftermath of the death of their manager. They were then active again from 2000 to 2003. In the course of their short career the band released four post-punk albums and two acoustic albums, as well as several live albums.

Despite their relatively short lifespan compared to more famous contemporaries like The Cure or Talking Heads, The Chameleons achieved a cult status among fans of the Manchester scene. This was largely due to their atmospheric guitar sound and lead singer Mark Burgess' haunting lyrics. The philosophical themes in his writing cover a range of dark topics including mental breakdown, violent crime, personal loss, apathy, and urban decay set against the dreary landscape of 1980s Manchester.


The group were heavily inspired by U2's earlier ventures into post-punk and to a certain extent by the moody style of Echo And The Bunny Men. While somewhat obscure in the grand scheme of popular music, The Chameleons were cited as a monumental influence by various bands including Interpol, Oasis, The Flaming Lips and The Verve.

Following their breakup, Burgess continued playing alone as Chameleons Vox.

They're often called The Chameleons UK so as to not confuse them with an American band by the same name.

Selected Discography:

Studio Albums:

  • Script of The Bridge (1983)
  • What Does Anything Mean? Basically (1985)
  • Strange Times (1986)
  • Why Call It Anything (2001)

Acoustic Albums:

  • Strip (2000)
  • This Never Ending Now (2002)



  • Acceptable Professional Targets: "Return of the Roughnecks" is a scathing anti-yuppie anthem. While Manchester was cracking at the seams, Mark Burgess was shaking his head at the blind optimism of the people around him.
  • Album Intro Track: "Silence, Sea and Sky" from What Does Anything Mean? Basically is an instrumental track that starts off bombastically and fades away toward the end.
  • Cover Version:
    • The bonus tracks on Strange Times include covers of "John, I'm Only Dancing" by David Bowie, and "Tomorrow Only Knows" by The Beatles.
    • This Never Ending Now contains an acoustic cover of Bowie's "Moonage Daydream".
  • The '80s: The dark sound of the band's music was fitting for the harsh economic realities of that time in Northern England.
  • Goth Rock: A better known example from a genre overfilled with obscure groups in the 80s.
  • Grief Song: "Tears" from Strange Times is about a friend of Burgess who died from cancer a few months before the release of the album.
  • Long Title:
    • "A Person Isn't Safe Anywhere These Days"
    • "Singing Rule Britannia (While the Walls Close In)"
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Singing Rule Britannia (While The Walls Close In)" was a direct jab at Burgess' father and older Brits who celebrated the Conservative Party while their country was falling apart around them.
  • Magnificent Bastard: The song "Mad Jack" is possibly named after Mad Jack Churchill, an Englishman of Scottish ancestry who fought World War II using a longbow, sword and bagpipes. It could very well be about a raving, drugged up 'prophet'.
  • Murder Ballad:
    • "Here Today" from Script of the Bridge is from the perspective of a man as he dies after being shot. His mind repeatedly asks where his wife is. According to Burgess, that man was John Lennon.
    • "A Person Isn't Safe Anywhere These Days", from the same album, was written after the band's experiences as victims of violent crime, as well as various newspaper reports of muggings and murder all across Manchester.
  • Never Trust a Title: "Swamp Thing" has nothing to do with the comic book character or swamps for that matter, instead evoking the crushingly depressing reality of life in Thatcher's Britain.
  • Old Man Conversation Song: "Intrigue in Tangiers" was written after Burgess visited his grandfather at Broughton House, a home for war veterans. He'd bring hash for one of the service men who'd tell him stories of far off countries.
    • A deeper meaning for the song is not wasting your youth since the old man compared his situation in the veterans home to being buried alive.
  • Post-Punk: One of the darker examples of this genre, practically comparable to Joy Division and Killing Joke.
  • Sarcastic Title:
    • "Singing Rule Britannia (While the Walls Close In)"
  • Small Town Boredom: "Monkeyland" from Script of the Bridge is about Middleton, just outside of Manchester, which Burgess felt was closing in on him. It turned later that Monkeyland was used an insult toward the town's inhabitants.