igue Sigue Sputnik shoehorned some adverts between tracks, but they probably never considered fleshing out a release with soundbites about channelling alien dictations from space. Some-time Chameleon frontman Mark Burgess has filled this gap in the market. Backed by a sound uncannily reminiscent of the opening whistley drone from “Monkeyland” (possibly a sneaky in-joke to be found there), various disembodied voices pop up throughout the first disc of Magic Boomerang to tell us about leaving their body and witnessing multi-national workers toiling away in secret moon-mines. I’m not entirely sure why this occurs. Hopefully it’s not just my copy. Anyway, despite being something of a diminishing returns policy (repeat listening will probably render these clips somewhat less charmingly quirky), the theme of important messages being funnelled through a single conduit is a pertinent one for this collection to toy with.
Originally stemming from tentative label requests to re-release Burgess’ 1990 demo album Zima Junction, this double disc set represents hand-picked favourites from every non-Chameleons era of his career. Almost by necessity this results in a somewhat varied record, stretching from early punky thrashings (“Rock of Ages”) to recent demos (“Mickey Mouschwitz”); leaving Mark as the only constant. This is far from a bad thing because, much like an excitingly marketed action figure all set for Christmas release, he comes complete with universal songwriting appeal. Which I fear I’ve just massively cheapened with that dodgy simile. A better man would mention that Burgess seems to possess the oft sought-after skill of writing touchingly personal lyrics with far wider implications. This aspect of his writing leaves songs that clearly deal with specific personal-life events wonderfully open to further interpretation, dissemination and application by anyone choosing to listen.
Which is why the semi-thematic returns to alien broadcast receptors between tracks felt so appropriate after it had time to sink in. Mark Burgess is the positive flipside of every dubious psychic who ever tried to win over a hapless victim with their snake-oil craft (“I’m sensing you have a problem in your life at the moment ...”) When he deals with the thorny issue of betrayal on the towering “Gethsemene”, they aren’t exclusively individual demons being exorcised—it’s practically group therapy. In amongst the unreleased material and Sparks covers (enjoyable in their own ways), this effect occurs with startling regularity. “The Speed of Life” may deal with alienation, but the sheer existence of the track serves to reassure us that we’re not alone. It’s healthy audio Paxil for miserable sods. With the added bonus that you aren’t funding a monolithic drug producer.
Of course, the mixed nature of the collection means that it probably cannot be all things to all people. Favourites will develop, skippables will emerge. I also noticed variation in the production levels at certain points; most evident being the early Clichés punk tracks coming out far louder than everything following them (and no, not just because they’re punk tracks). It would surely take the bitterest of miserly cynics to defy the hope-in-a-hopeless-world nature of these songs, though. I hate sub-Care Bearsian nonsense as much as any sane person should, but the peaks of this album are a cut so high above that they slash the clouds.
Reviewed by: Peter Parrish
Reviewed on: 2004-11-29