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Peter Hammill - Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night CD (album) cover

CHAMELEON IN THE SHADOW OF THE NIGHT

Peter Hammill

 

Eclectic Prog

4.03 | 231 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Emotion, and words. When you strip away everything else from an album, when you take off all the context, all the innovation, and all the gimmicks, all the production, that's what's left over. Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night is basically an album built on these two. It's mostly just a man, his guitar, his piano, his words (plus ten minutes of personal epic, but then I did say 'mostly'). The result: the finest singer-songwriter effort I've yet heard. Pure personality. The production may be rough, the structures might verge on simplicity, every now and then a repeat or a 'slip' jars a piece, but all these 'failings' simply add to the personality, the raw, overwhelming emotion entrapped and enshrined in this record. So touching. So powerful. So human. Essential.

The uncategorisable German Overalls opens the album with a pun and a flood of emotion. The acoustic melodies are all memorable creatures, and the vocal is confidently diverse, switching between uncertainty, surety and something in between frequently. The four-track system provides one or two self-harmonies and sound effects a bit more like Hammill's later musique concrete experiments. The lyrics are autobiographical, and I suppose you'll like them if you like Peter Hammill and you probably won't if you don't, but I don't know. A harmonium provides a full wall of sound towards the end, a bit of cathartic electronic/electric flow rounds off the piece. More importantly, the song contains a rare moment of pure electric-guitar rock in the middle, and that remains, after all the various forms of music I've picked up since first getting into it, one of life's simplest and most life-affirming pleasures.

The deeply moving Slender Threads follows this up as the first of three acoustic guitar pieces, and much as the music is top notch, including a couple of extremely neat interludes and an absolutely perfect main melody, the emphasis is on the philosophical and beautiful lyrics. The vocals include occasional moments of harshness and highness, but are by and large a very low-key feature. Subtle, and understated, and beautiful.

Rock And Role smashes in after this, a more Van-Der-Graaf-Generator piece with just a dash of punk, featuring a sharp electric riff and strong performances from Nic Potter, Guy Evans and David Jackson. Tasteful piano additions and ambiguously quiet electrics mark the piece, including an extended, cleverly arranged instrumental conclusion and bridge. Lyrically, it teeters between high-brow philosophising and emotional rawness, and manages to capture both. Classy stuff.

In The End is a piano-and-voice piece, with a great deal of emotion conveyed through the strength of the voice and the piano, and through the lyrics, which are predictably enviable in insight and expression, a sort of clean wailing that Hammill seems to have saved up for his solo material. The vocal is pretty, but nonetheless rather edgy and full of venom and desperation and hope whenever the words require it. And they are such good words.

What's It Worth is perhaps the most musically captivating of the pieces here, with a startlingly beautiful flute from Jaxon, a simple main acoustic melody and a charming, laid-back little acoustic-electroacoustic thing lying in wait at the end of the verses. Though the lyrics are again intelligent and moving in a sort of, the vocal performance accompanying them is so very strong that it almost escapes them, making every use of his high, fluctuating, stylised and backboned (I know what I mean, you probably don't :p) clean vocals, along with one incredibly beautiful harmony. A piece that crept up on me unawares, and pure delight for the ears.

Easy To Slip Away is entirely different. Another piano piece, and this time almost an emotional force in and of itself. The lyrics are simple, autobiographical and yet so damn universally true, Hammill's vocal delivery (I maintain that anyone who can fit that much emotion in 'Susie!' is a virtuoso singer) is heartfelt, powerful and clear, and even a soulful saxophone and an incredible outpouring of mellotron and piano only serve to remind of the vocals.

Dropping The Torch is the album's last acoustic guitar song (and indeed, the last of the singer-songwriter pieces), and is again a simple outpouring of personality. The vocal is clean, moving and well-arranged, the lyrics are universal, well-written, true and affect me on a personal level, and really you need no more than that to make a song. The acoustic is a rather nice, moving thing, and it almost carries along the listener.

In The Black Room (I) bursts in with a stab of dirty, powerful sax/organ wailing, and the full band is back for a concluding monstrosity of personal-songwriting-gone-mad with chaotic keyboard effects, whirling flutes, roaring saxes, imaginative percussion, lots of vocal harmonies, and an always-rather-prominent shocking piano. The lyrics are stunning, creatively arranged, and would fit in as much with the theme of Pawn Hearts as the personality of Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night. The Tower takes the atmosphere to an even rawer level, with one of David Jaxon's finest saxophone performances, a mass of juxtaposed ideas hinged on the piano, and some thunderous cascades of sound. The vocals exhibit all of Hammill's talent. The return of the In The Black Room theme comes with extra punctuating cymbals, and yet more arrangement complexities, and the ambiguity is retained even when all this force comes cascading out. An extremely impressive piece of complex music that balances chaos/control and expresses the conventionally non-expressable. Could well have been arranged a bit more sharply, I guess, but it nonetheless does a surprisingly good job of fitting the album. I'm sure that it'll be the highlight for a lot of the listeners, and I'm sure it deserves more review space, but I'll leave those for whom it is the highlight to explain the merits.

The live piano-and-vox rendition of Easy To Slip Away is probably my favourite of the bonus tracks, not suffering at all from not having many of the elements that made up the original piece, and so soaringly emotional and energetic. The version of In The End is equally superb, with an improvised piano introduction, and all the many strengths of the original, while being different enough to merit inclusion (a bit of not-entirely-serious-vocals, perhaps comparable to some of Peter Gabriel's work... Willow Farm and Harold The Barrel, particularly). Rain 3 AM is also an interesting piece, though I'm not quite sure what I think of it yet. Still, it's only a bonus track, and the other bonus tracks alone are amazing enough (in my opinion) to merit a re-buy, and I feel like putting up a review now rather than later, so, yeah, I might fill you all in on that one later.

So, it won't be cleanly and perfectionistically (is that a word? I guess not) produced enough for some, and it won't be complex enough for others, and it'll be too lacking in gimmicks for others still, and a few people won't like the slow bits, and a few more won't like the fast bits, and Hammill will be too noisy and too obscure for some, and not noisy enough and too emotionally revealing for others. But that's what it is, and I love it.

Rating: Six stars if you're me; five Stars if you like Peter Hammill; three if you don't. I'm rounding to five. Favourite track: I simply cannot choose. Any of the tracks. Maybe Slender Threads, maybe Mannheim Overalls, maybe What's it Worth? Essentially, whichever track I'm listening to at the moment.

Author's note: I'm sure I've confused musicians at some point, since I can't be entirely certain who's playing on which track. Ah well.

TGM: Orb | 5/5 |

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