Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Chrome
Alien Soundtracks


Released 1977 on Siren
Reviewed by ur, 21/07/2000ce


To me, naif Italian listener, Chrome will be always associated to that unseizable, everchanging thing that was the American proto-wave scene. Bands like early Pere Ubu, Devo, Residents, Tuxedomoon, still today remain wrapped in a dense, suffocating darkness that accurately keep secret their legacy: what they were about? In my mind they were musical projections of my own idea of America, the dark Continent sung by Wall Of Voodoo, a terrible wasteland made by abandoned factories, spooky smokestacks seen in the distance, desert streets and serial killers waiting for you just around the corner.
Among all those groups Chrome were the most frightening, essentially because they were the most invisible: Damon Edge and Helios Creed, the core of the band, carefully avoided to expose themselves and hid under a thick veil of mystery (so thick that, when Edge died, 40 days passed before his corpse was discovered). No concerts, rare pics (preferably out of focus) and albums of unspeakable brutality. Alien Soundtracks is my fave, but the following Half Machine Lip Moves is equally good.
When I bought it, it was a mindblower. First of all, the title: isn't perfect? All the Chrome philosophy summed up in two words: and this philosophy is just about trying to sonically describe outer space chaos. Then, the sleeve: an American interior, complete with Sixties design and smiling lady lying on the carpet - but past the window an enormous red eye is voraciously spying, hurling all the scene into a nightmarish Lovecraft atmosphere. Finally, the music: a monstrous pastiche fuelled by Stooges fury, brainstorming Krautrock electronics and ponderous heavy metal guitar riffs.
But, differently from other bands of the period, there's no trace of intellectual approach: Chrome play in a vile and disgusting way; their aesthetics is a trite combination of 50's sci-fi comics and porn-horror Italian movies, with a rare penchant for bad taste. In this sense, they're just a garage band freaked out one time too much: a sort of MC5 stripped of any political issue and lost in the complete vacuum of their damaged brains. Chrome simply rock n roll, but their music is so stoned, out of tune, aggressive and distorted that seems avant-garde. When Damon Edge plays with loops and tapes is not because he's listened to John Cage and Brian Eno - he's just trying to create the most vivid shock effect, in the fine tradition of the Ed Wood movies or the Brainticket records (the most ugly and stoopid of all times).
Listen to All Data Lost: the tape textures evocate the paper-pulp scenario of the poorest sci-fi film of the 50's - and the alien beings that populate the songs have plastic antennae and sham trunks.
Suspiciously, sometimes Chrome seem almost intelligent: ST37 has the same celestial craziness of Suzuki's era Can; Pharoah Chromium somewhat manages to remember Captain Beefheart; Nova Feedback is an amazing journey through space - but when you find titles like Pygmies in ze Dark and Slip It To The Android, what do you have to think, if not they're complete idiots?
And here comes the holy mystery of rock n roll: why a bunch of outcasts, barely able to play their instruments, suddenly seem touched by the hand of God and can reach the dizzy, abstract heights of the 13th Floor Elevators and all the other true Interpreters of the Tradition? I don't know: I can only believe.


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