In my younger days whilst listening to music, I’d take the two large speakers attached to my parents old school 70’s Sony stereo system and lie them down across from each other in my bedroom. I’d leave just enough space between the speakers for me to wedge in so that I could play whatever cassette tapes (and later CD’s) I had purchased. It seems to have been an end of an era (though nobody realized it at the time). Today on the “world wide web” listeners are inundated with streaming music, Youtube videos, and MP3’s. Before all of that you just had whatever you had purchased, your stereo, and your sensory processing. I’d honestly spend hours listening to Joy Division, The Cure, The Smiths, and The Chameleons – soaking all the sounds in, reading and re-reading lyrics, realizing there was an alternate musical universe out there.
The Chameleons in particular struck a chord with me that only a few other artists have. I’ve documented my thoughts about their debut album Script of the Bridge but I haven’t discussed in detail my thoughts about the follow-up records, side projects, solo projects, etc. I’ve spent the last 17 years or so steadily collecting every Chameleons related musical project – some rarer than others. Mark Burgess & The Sons of God, The Reegs, Invincible, Weaveworld, Black Swan Lane, Music For Aborigines, The Sun & the Moon – I love them all. The Sun & the Moon in particular are well-loved because it featured 2/4 of The Chameleons (you should probably reduce that to 1/2) but also because of the melodic and incredible guitar stylings of Andy Whitaker and Andy Clegg. Not just The Chameleons redux, they brought an altogether different, ethereal vibe to the songs. The duo have worked together post The Sun & the Moon in Weaveworld and worked with Black Swan Lane on the appropriately titled record Sun & Moon sessions (both projects are stunning). When I began to read buzz about an Andy Whitaker solo album coming out featuring members of Black Swan Lane and Andy Clegg – I was intrigued, and immediately secured a copy when it was available.
The 1st thing I was struck by while listening to the record was how the disparate elements combine to make an engaging listen – this is how records should be made! It bears traces of Joy Division and Andy’s years playing post-punk styled music (a guitar lick here and there, the way he enunciates certain passages), but just as quickly the record will segue into an acoustic folk lament. It is a record that questions the deeper things of life while also taking time to stop and observe everyday life. Certain tracks will immediately resonate, while others will begin to sink in after a few listens.
We Almost Take Flight (album highlights)
Your Car– The start of a car opens the album, and it is a fitting metaphor for the journey we are about to take with Andy Whitaker. Low-key vibe, acoustic guitar with Andy’s emotional singing carrying the track. Instrumentally it shifts into a post-punk interlude at the 2:45 mark, with a Joy Division inspired guitar refrain that is nothing short of stunning. I loved the song when I 1st heard it as the lead off single, and I love it within the context of the album. Stunning opener. I love this lyric – “Seductive music through your roof and moments of truth / What can we take from over there and bring in your car”
Man – Guitars sound like something from The Sun & the Moon album, reminding the listener of Andy’s vast body of work. Tribal sounding drums, a bit lower in the mix than the voice / guitar. Vocals become increasingly emotional as Whitaker implores the listen to think about the consequences of their actions. The song shifts into a stunning coda of sound with just a minute left, as organ swells, guitar, and drums rise out of the mix to overtake the listener. How many times can I say stunning in one review? Key lyrics:
“And what we leave behind shall be judged tomorrow / All the laughter, love, the heartache and the sorrow”
Sermon on the Mount – Guitar strumming straight from a Simon & Garfunkel album with Andy’s voice lending the tune a distinct Nick Drake vibe. A song that questions but is never accusatory in the way it deals with the topic at hand (yes it is THAT Sermon on the Mount). Sound embellishments enter the mix at around the 1:45 mark, adding a layered texture to the track. Key lyrics:
“Were you prophet or just a saint? Someone like Gandhi and wise as Lao Tzu / Did they put you high on a cross or are these all stories of memories lost?”
Hydraulic Bottlejacks – A glam influenced track coming towards the end, a bit harder edged than the rest of the record. It is a nice change of pace, with guitars roaring out of my speakers and nuanced vocals from Andy. The wordless harmony throughout the track is a nice touch. These words are masterful “The world is very big and you are fairly small still you took it on, oh yeah and nearly won”
I’d recommend this album whether you have heard of The Chameleons and all the related bands or not. If you are new to Mr. Whitaker – think David Bowie, bits of Joy Division, Echo & the Bunnymen, and Nick Drake all wrapped up into one stunning record. If you are an obsessive Chameleons fan (is there any other kind?) and are curious about this record I’d advise you that it can be compared to the Mark Burgess album Zima Junction but with more layered guitars and a more varied sound. It is a masterpiece. Everyone who contributed to this record (Andy Whitaker, Andy Clegg, Jack Sobel, John Kolbeck, Ste Wilson, Julie de Waroquier) should pat themselves on the back – its a job well done. Check back in a week or two for my interview with Andy Whitaker talking about this record as well as other assorted oddities. Andy’s page on Wanderland Music is here – enjoy.
Verdict: Andy’s Moment of Truth
|1. Your Car|
|2. Militant Millicent|
|3. Sublime Light|
|5. Frank Abagnale|
|7. Singing September Song|
|8. Sermon On the Mount|
|9. Primordial Soup|
|10. Hydraulic Bottlejacks|
|11. Uncle Marcus|