With the confirmation that the current lineup of The Chameleons is in the studio recording new music, let’s take a quick look back at the release that was supposed to be their fourth album following 1986’s Strange Times. But as is typical in the stories of bands who are doomed to be under-appreciated, fate intervened.
Tony Fletcher was the band’s manager circa Strange Times and he died of a heart attack just two days before they were set to enter the studio to record their new material, and the band split almost immediately after those sessions. In that sense, we are lucky to have gotten these four songs because they’re as brilliant as anything the band had ever done.
Those last songs were eventually set for release in 1990 as Tony Fletcher Walked On Water – a tribute to their late manager – to help pay off some of the band’s debts, but guitarist Dave Fielding objected and held up its release for some years, leaving only a small run of promo copies to circulate in the general public and add to the band’s mystique, for whatever that was worth. Eventually an agreement was reached and the songs were released as a bonus disc on the 1997 compilation Return Of The Roughnecks, and was reissued as a standalone release in 2022.
The band’s 2000 reunion yielded a proper fourth album – 2001’s Why Call It Anything? – and while far from a black mark on the band’s discography, it’s certainly every fan’s fourth-favourite record; something that it doesn’t feel like would have been said if they’d continued on in 1987. We’ll have to see what these new sessions produce – only original Chameleons Mark Burgess and Reg Smithies are involved, with Jon Lever having passed and Fielding continuing to be permanently estranged – but at least based on their recent shows, the band is musically in fine form. Will the songwriting be there? I’m happy to have the opportunity to find out.