After the breakups of the revered Chameleons and the Sun and the Moon, bassist/singer Mark Burgess embarked on a sort-of solo excursion that found him creating intriguing new music while heading up what turned out to be one of alternative rock’s most glorious live nostalgia acts. Zima Junction, consisting of demos “for an album that was never to be” largely performed by Burgess himself, stands on its own as an arresting collection, merging the Chameleons’ epic song structures with vulnerable folk-rock. Acoustic guitars dominate, with cheesy synths occasionally approximating string and horn sections. “Refugees” carries forward the Chameleons’ tradition of virtual songs within songs, while “Happy New Life” builds to a shiver-inducing melancholic chorus, something the old band did as well. A stunning cover of Philip Glass’ “Facades” (with lyrics by a Shetland poet) foreshadows a direction Burgess would later take.
To the delight of Burgess diehards, the touring Sons of God (a different lineup from the album) was virtually the Chameleons Mark II, though its leader had switched to guitar. The limited-edition live Manchester 1993 (sold at shows during the Sons of God’s ’94 North American tour) features eight Chameleons classics and two Zima Junction songs. Solidly played and well-recorded, it’s a passionate, thrilling document of a seminal band, even if it is, by definition, secondhand.
Recorded and released in Germany, Spring Blooms Tra-la contains different live versions of a half-dozen Chameleons songs that also appear on Manchester 1993, six additional Chameleons numbers plus one Zima Junction track. To make things even more confusing, Spring Blooms contains a bonus CD of three tracks from Manchester 1993. A boon for completists.
By mid-decade, Burgess dissolved the Sons of God and, with its guitarist, Yves Altana, released Paradyning, his first proper studio album since the Sun and the Moon’s 1988 debut. Amidst new agey guitar washes and simpler arrangements, the duo (with the help of some sidemen) craft dreamy soundscapes with rocky underpinnings — far from Burgess’ most memorable material but an intriguing development nonetheless. The charmingly titled “You Opened My Mind (Then the Acid Kicked In)” is the highlight, while “Stop Talking,” a vindictive personal complaint (to a former Chameleon perhaps?), displays a self-righteousness not heard since Burgess’ first group’s heyday.
The Chameleons’ posthumous Radio 1 album gathers nine tracks recorded by different lineups of the quintet in ’83 and ’85 and adds a previously unheard leftover from the vaults. Here Today…Gone Tomorrow likewise documents the group from British radio sessions in ’82 and ’85; Live in Toronto and Live at the Gallery Club are both vintage concert recordings. There are others.