review by: Roberto Martinelli
Itís ironic that a record label, in re-issuing a famous bandís back catalog, would choose to put the time and effort in to spiffing up a record that seems to be nigh universally reviled, from fans to even the band itself.
Maybe itís some form of sado-masochism that someone would put a record out and then take a great amount of time bagging on it in the liner notes (and in the liner notes of the next album, as well). Maybe itís guilt? Perhaps some twisted form of catharsis? Whatever it may be, it seems universally accepted that Chameleon was the album that nearly broke Helloween. It alienated frontman Michael Kiske from the group, got the band kicked off their major label, resulted in the firing of original drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg (who later committed suicide by jumping in front of a subway, for Christís sake), not to mention alienating even MORE fans, most of whom were already smarting with distaste for the previous record, Pink Bubbles Go Ape. "But go out and buy Chameleon anyway!"
But like Pink Bubbles... (which is in fact, great) Chameleon really isnít that bad; in fact, itís rather good. Now, letís qualify that subjective statement. You should know that Michael Kiske is my personal god of metal singing, so anything that heís on canít be that bad. And true to form, the vocals on Chameleon are superb. Now, taking issue with some of the actual parts that heís singing is another matter entirely...
Objectively, the criticisms are true that Chameleon errs in being far too over-reaching and meandering in its scope. It tries to be too much Ė a commercially appealing pop/rock record with heavier songs, some remnants of power metal, soft ditties and lots of eclectic elements (mostly in the form of horns) Ė and paradoxically reduces and dilutes itself in spite of that goal.
But there are still some gems to be enjoyed, mainly in the form of the vocals. The choruses to "First Time" and "Giants," for example, are totally great, and dammit, I think the very symbol of Helloweenís low point, the gentle, music box-like song "Windmill," is a very nice song, indeed; kind of reminding me of some idyllic childhood theme to a classic childrenís tale along the lines of "Heidi."
In other cases, the chorus kind of ruins the songís good vibe, like on "I Donít Wanna Cry No More." And then there are songs that are inescapably, categorically filler, like "Revolution Now," which nearly pulls off sneaking in the chorus to that Ď60s sexual revolution song about San Francisco... but nearly means it still doesnít turn the trick. (Well, I still think Kiske sounds great singing that part...)
If you want a rocking metal album by one of metalís most important bands, chances are you wonít like Chameleon at all. And again, truth be told, thereís way too much fat and misdirection on the album to qualify it as being a creative success. But it IS interesting, and it does have a good amount of elements to be enjoyed. Plus, itís the last thing Kiske ever did with the band that made him famous.
Again with the irony of expanding and re-issuing a largely hated record: Chameleonís expanded version features a second CD of seven b-sides, taken from singles of Chameleon album tracks whose choice of being made the subject of a single proves that the band was totally out of it. The b-sides are almost all pretty bad, from the utterly tedious "I Donít Care You Donít Care," which seemingly goes on and on about how each pronoun in the English language doesnít care, to an alternate version of "Windmill" that comes across more as a bad acid trip than a gentle, charming song. The only point of amusement/enjoyment is the "Introduction" to "Get Me Out of Here," in which a goofy, pathetic Michael Weikath tries to impress a "British reporter" with a lame song he wrote ("Rock and Roll All Day"). (6.9/10)
PS: If youíve already got an older version of Chameleon, you might not want to bother with the expanded edition, as the two studio albums sound identical, despite any purported re-mastering.