Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

Chrome - Chromeology


AOTM #67, December 2005ce
Released 2005 on (No Label)


The music from CHROMEOLOGY was recorded between 1976-79, and was put together for streaming purposes-only, by Julian Cope. It has never been released.

  1. TV as Eyes (2.16) (from HALF MACHINE LIP MOVES)
  2. The Monitors (2.23) (from ALIEN SOUNDTRACKS)
  3. March of the Chrome Police (3.36) (from HALF MACHINE LIP MOVES)
  4. Slip It to the Android (4.01) (from ALIEN SOUNDTRACKS)
  5. Return to Zanzibar (3.51) (from THE VISITATION)
  6. Chromosome Damage (3.42) (from ALIEN SOUNDTRACKS)
  7. Kinky Lover (3.31) (from THE VISITATION)
  8. ST-37 (3.12) (from ALIEN SOUNDTRACKS)
  9. You’ve Been Duplicated (2.38) (from HALF MACHINE LIP MOVES)
  10. Nova Feedback (5.58) (from ALIEN SOUNDTRACKS)
  11. Pharaoh Chromium (3.27) (from ALIEN SOUNDTRACKS)
  12. All Data Lost (3.22) (from ALIEN SOUNDTRACKS)
  13. My Time To Live (4.20) (from THE VISITATION)

Note: CHROMEOLOGY is my attempt to conflate the first three Chrome LPs (THE VISITATION, ALIEN SOUNDTRACKS and HALF MACHINE LIP MOVES) together in one lavishly streamlined package in order to sweeten their noise enough to lure a few of you unsuspecting motherfuckers into the wider trip of this late ‘70s San Francisco band. For myself, I still exercise regularly to side one of ALIEN SOUNDTRACKS and side two of their fourth RED EXPOSURE LP, and find that Chrome’s pulse helps me take on a superman/automaton guise during the process. However, pretty much all of the early Chrome records are important and generally useful to those on the heathenising programme; moreover, all of the first four LPs still work as a holistic canon with which to blow yer brains out.

Modern Equipment Can’t Take The Abuse

Damon Edge! Helios Creed! John L. Cyborg! Gary Spain! Now those are motherfucking names to conjure with… maybe there were indeed giants walking the earth back in the late ‘70s. Unfortunately, the catchy proto-industrial bastard that was Chrome has not easily asserted its place in rock’n’roll history, for its 70% massively-stylised and unrighteously holy mix of Jagger-mouthed robot soul, sweating lo-fi “Bogus Man” dubby skank (drums’n’teatray Swell Maps stylee), NEU 2-styled art house cut-ups, and berserkely feral fuzzsaw Detroit-ness (all projected to the public via record sleeves depicting a monolithically clichéd post war view of the future) does not sit well with the band’s other 30% perverse underbelly comprised of cumbersomely unrthythmic UFO-crash-landed-behind-the-gasworks-alien-engineers-trying-to-blowtorch-the-door-open soundtrack. Nor was it ever meant to, of that I’m quite sure. But, damn me, if it ain’t still (once yooz evicted certain obversely perverse miscreants) a fucking glorious rush of sound with which to clear the 21st century custard. A row, a racket, a bull in a china shop - Chrome certainly was all these things. But no no no, Chrome were nobody’s dry wank and that’s a fact, just fabulous future cretins with a silver foil fixation – a fixation that lasted far longer than their allotted 15 minutes merely because their leader Damon Edge proved he had shit to say, and wasn’t about to fuck off until he’d said it... all.

Yup, Chrome’s alien alliance of garage Krautfunk and Jaggeresque electro-dub was the obtuse collision and singular vision of singing drummer and vengeful lyricist Damon Edge, a hard-to-photograph, occasionally be-lipsticked oft-leather gloved Frank Zappa’s Afterbirth of the Underworld. Although vocally, Damon Edge was an older and braver kissing cousin of Electric Eels’s uber sniveller David E., the lyrical twists of his many snide boy broadsides were often submerged under their Don Buchla-informed1 electronic bray of hideous radioactive midrange that Edge insisted on flytipping over every Chrome recording. And while R2D2 getting into punk would have chosen Chrome over the Pistols every time because you could dance to them, regular humans such as myself always wore oven gloves when handling their discs for fear of death via some hitherto unknown space disease. Chrome was ‘80s before the ‘80s ever happened, and boy did they have the funk – a funk so degraded and so abrasive and so alienating that its single reference point was - from the inception of their career - the arid cocaine mix of Sly’s THERE’S A RIOT GOIN’ ON. Indeed, 1976’s “Kinky Lover” should be considered a more naturally automaton sequel to Sly’s lights-are-on-but-no-one’s-home performances on THERE’S A RIOT GOIN’ ON than the fake effusiveness of FRESH ever coulda been. At our punk club Eric’s, in Liverpool, “Slip It To The Android” was a big dance floor smash because it ran James Brown’s “Cold Sweat” through engineer John L. Cyborg’s alien filter to create a FAUST CLEAR ALBUM early-Mothers horn arrangement that had you body-poppin’ before any sucker had even come up with the term.

And yet Chrome do not seem to have filtered happily or naturally into the official I Was A Punk Before You Were A Punk2 list of bands, such as their West Coast contemporaries The Residents; or Cleveland’s Rocket From The Tomb, Electric Eels, The Mirrors; or even Canada’s Simply Saucer. Why’s that I hear you cry? Well it’s probably because Damon Edge continued recording under the Chrome moniker for so long after they passed their sell-by date that potential new fans - badly burned by their first and inappropriate Chrome purchase - thereafter give up (or wait for a mate more monied than they to do the shelling out). Chrome are now in a similar situation to other once-greats who soldiered on with few original members making music unworthy of the name. How many teenagers who, on a whim, bought Can’s late period SAW DELIGHT LP or Blue Cheer’s OH PLEASANT HOPE glimpsed even vestiges of the beasts that once inhabited the world under that name? Chrome too now suffers from too many releases that look the part but just don’t pass muster.

And yet time was when the appearance of a new Chrome record in the racks was guaranteed to send seismic shockwaves of expectation through the underground. Throughout the ominous daylight of ’77 and ’78, imported and too expensive Chrome LPs used to leer at me conceitedly from behind their elite U.S.-only shrink-wrappings in the import section of Liverpool’s Probe Records. Unlike the soon-to-be-dog-eared copies of Throbbing Gristle’s SECOND ANNUAL REPORT and other British handmades of their ilk, Chrome’s cut up paste-board art statement sleeves always rested far more dignified and more overly-validated than their U.K. counterparts simply because record manufacturers in the U.S. felt the need to protect their product with that ultimate enhancer, the aforementioned shrink wrapping that was still a two-years-away concept here in Merrie Olde England. And so, like those LPs of The Residents, Suicide, Pere Ubu, Afrika Corps, etc., Chrome’s Neu!-like graffitoid canvases were sacred documents whose contents had to be learned at all costs. However, these suckers had been factory sealed behind an impregnable clear plastic wall that was penetrable only by those with massive amounts of dosh, indeed IMPORT amounts of dosh… Gosh! The owner of Probe Records, Geoff Davis, was far too hardened a businessman to fall for us just listening without buying – hell, I’d tried it on too many times and got it in the ear from him concerning The Residents and Armand Schaubroeuck. So we had to wait for some other poor sod to shell out, and cop an earful of their copy. In the meantime, with only hardened (and monied) punks and experimentalists shelling out for Chrome LPs, Damon Edge & Co were hunting around for that elusive UK record deal, which was not gonna be forthcoming until the early 1980s via Beggars Banquet. Unfortunately, by the time those records would be released, both the real fire and the most focussed musicians had quit Chrome, leaving Edge and his ever-increasing slew of side men to tour under the Chrome moniker, until there was nowt but a husk to be had. Right, with that little history out if the way, weez now gonna go back and focus on those first three LPs that make up this so-called CHROMEOLOGY…

False Starts & Garage Farts – THE VISITATION


Being on the cusp of just about every rock’n’roll crossroads you’d care to mention, Chrome’s debut THE VISITATION is a particularly strange hybrid, having been conceived and executed during that unforgiving hinterland between ‘The Death of Prog’ and ‘The Birth of Punk’. Recorded in San Fransisco throughout 1976, and replete with poorly-photocopied lyric sheets and generally arty detritus, this self-released first LP’s home made sleeve implied far more vicious contents than the opening tracks delivered. Like KICK OUT THE JAMS, the opening song (no, two songs) of Chrome’s debut LP bore nothing more than a passing resemblance to the general canon of work that Edge & Co would output in the coming years; the debut even employing the services of a soon-to-be-jettisoned leader singer geezer, who went by the unconvincingly normal name of Mike Low; plus the chameleon-like lead guitarist John Lambdin, who seemed able to deliver whatever Damon Edge asked of him. On neither opening song (“How Many Years Too Soon?” and “Raider”) was there much evidence of the unprovenanced ur-scrawl that the insane record cover implied, Low’s euphoric pleading and whining set over the kind of well recorded Hendrix-inspired heavy rock (Uli Roth’s EARTHQUAKE LP meets Flower Travellin’ Band) that would – elsewhere – have us all creaming in our jeans. However, hard rock and psychedelia is never what Chrome should be thought to have represented. And only on track three “Return to Zanzibar” did the Chrome beast of legend finally shake itself from its dormant repose, as Damon Edge’s now familiarly scrawny complainathon vocal style – here particularly reminiscent of Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith - and Klaus Dinger-on-an-exercise-matt drum things kicked into the kind of white trash junkie funk that New York’s No Wave bands would appropriate two years hence. After that tune, Mike Low’s vocals finally gets with the Chrome programme for the steaming hothouse funk of side one’s closer “Caroline”, vocally approximating Edge, though without the bark or the rabid bite. Side two’s “Riding You” opens with all the Chrome elements in place, as disorientating tapes of laughter and FX in the manner of Pere Ubu’s Allen Ravenstein set the scene, but Lambdin’s frenetically strangled lead guitar is still way too straight for its musical setting. Thereafter come the Chrome classic “Kinky Lover”, an outrageous piece of clattering industrial funk that uses for its main riff John Cale’s brooding minor key take on Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel”3. “Sun Control” is a euphoric piece of drum’n’teatray insanity and Mike Low’s vocals are by now a positive gift to the overall sound, as more overly flanged funk riffs baste the listener until a beautiful Be Bop Deluxe-style coda ushers the song out. But THE VISITATION finishes disappointingly with the bland and overly-long percussion-driven West Coast psychedelia of “Memory Cords Over The Bay”, which concludes the LP with Chrome still retaining one foot in the old world.

And lo, in February 1978, landeth ALIEN SOUNDTRACKS


However, as the late-76 punk explosion changed the sonic temples of the rock’n’roll landscape out of all recognition between the release of Chrome’s debut and their follow-up, the trashing of the old ways brought many musicians not only in line with Chrome, but also actually into a position to surpass them. Chrome, however, rose to the occasion, as vocalist Mike Low disappeared over the horizon forever, leaving guitarist John Lambdin at the mercy of Damon Edge, now free to work on his lupine howl unobstructed. And with the release of Chrome’s second sacrificial offering ALIEN SOUNDTRACKS, the band absolutely nailed their muse to the floor. For herein was contained all of the yawp and thunder, all the bark and bitter rage of removal, all the homunculus ennui and editing room floor psychedelia that best represented Damon Edge’s unvented brainium. And, whilst the forms, cut-ups, splices, segue ways and collages of the record are never more extreme and lustfully executed than within the grooves of this LP, ALIEN SOUNDTRACKS still successfully walked that tightrope between horribly more-ish direct hits and the sheerly perverse barfothons which so obviously delighted Edge himself. But the change in sound and honing down of direction appears to have been due specifically to the appearance of new member (the legendary guitarist and mythically-named) Helios Creed, whose arrival tipped the scales so far in Damon Edge’s direction that every song on ALIEN SOUNDTRACKS would be a writing collaboration between the drummer and the newcomer, leaving previous songwriter John Lambdin orphaned in his own band.

ALIEN SOUNDTRACKS commences with the three-part mini-epic “Chromosome Damage”, which kicks off with about 40 seconds of frenetic drumming and lo-fi fuzz guitar over which Edge announces “I wanna fly away” before the whole freight train groove collides with the buffers of an industrial terminal. FX reminiscent of Pere Ubu-meets-Grand Funk’s “Winter & My Soul” (all TV and shortwave radio) breaks in until, fading out of the ether, comes a foul gloopy dual guitar solo announcing the death of the previous LP in final style. Incoming is the careering distorto-monomaniacal riffery of “The Monitors” with a killer punk-a-long chorus. Sucked out of the ether comes the almost Residents-like harmonised vocals of “All Data Lost”, which anticipates Monoshock’s “Leesa” by about a decade and a half, as analogue synthesizer drones and distant Joy Division theme guitars herald the fade. “SS Cygni” is nothing more than a highly catchy but typical Chrome lo-fi funk groove, with intertwining fuzz guitars that hit a plateau and then just motor to a fade. Side one concludes with one of my all time favourite Chrome pieces, the six minute long 6/8 flanged stellar waltz of “Nova Feedback”, in which John Lambdin and Helios Creed create layer upon layer of fuzzy crunching melody over an Edge skank rhythm reminiscent of Moebius & Plank’s RASTAKRAUTPASTA. The six minutes of “Pygmies in Zee Park” opens side two like some weird hybrid of Yello, Tuxedo Moon and DUCK STAB-period Residents, as wild dislocated voices howl and hoedown over frenetic distracted sambas, before the whole schmeer breaks down into a Hawkwind/Neu motorik groove over which Damon Edge croons, shamelessly aping Roy Orbison. Soon, this gives way to an infuriating electronic Prince Buster skank, albeit weighted down under heaped mattresses of distorted and ring modulated electronic brass stabs. Track two is the aforementioned “Slip It To The Android”, a James Brown-catchy on-the-one soul piece complete with George Duke-Herbie Hancock funky ARP 2600 synth soloing, John Lamdbin’s slunky electric violin and a robot MC crowing ‘Sleep eet to thee ann-droid’ over and over and fucking over again, a braying cartoon Mexican mule sneerily cheerily chewing your lobes like there’s zero airspace between performer and audience. “Pharoah Chromium” is Chrome’s take on Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs’ in which a bogus “Casbah Rock” meets “Rock The Casbah” meets the Modern Lovers’ “Egyptian Reggae”, as filtered through Damon Edge’s melted plastic brain. Kinda makes me think Adolph Sax woulda had seconds thoughts had he known such noise addicts were gonna get their mits on his beloved invention. On second thunks, you remember that Mothers of Invention track off FREAK OUT entitled ‘The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny”? Well I’m sure that’s the instrument Edge & Co employed in order to achieve this braying ass of a sound. The three minutes of “ST 37” follows, a pachuco spider-on-roller-skates barn dance with spiky picked electric guitar, clattering snare drums and lowest common denominator lyrics about getting in a Winnebago and going to San Diego. That this song gave its name to one of the ‘90s’ best American space rock bands is certainly evidence that not everyone has forgotten Chrome, though – like Bowie’s “TVC15”, I’ve no idea what the title means. ALIEN SOUNDTRACKS concludes with the “Iron Man” instrumental riffery of “Magnetic Dwarf people”, as the sparks fly upward and the skank of nations drags us with Biblical intensity west across the night sky forever chasing the sunset. Beautiful… fucking beautiful. If anyone asks you about Chrome, tell ‘em ALIEN SOUNDTRACKS nailed it, Dunne’n’Dusted, end of story.

Incoming HALF MACHINE LIP MOVES, Circa ‘79


However, when their third LP hit the streets one year later, I gots to admit that –though patchy and shatteringly unlistenable in places - nobody ever started an album with as much fire as Chrome did with the opening of HALF MACHINE LIP MOVES. Hell, the first time I heard the guitar riff in “TV as Eyes”, I thought I’d died and gone to rock’n’roll heaven. The second time I knew it. “TV as Eyes” remains my favourite beginning to any rock’n’roll record, surpassing even Iggy & The Stooges’ RAW POWER, Blue Cheer’s OUTSIDEINSIDE and Pere Ubu’s THE MODERN DANCE. Flanged Fuck-Everything a-rhythmical guitars whoop like itinerant eunuchised priests of Frey pushing their ox carted God across a field, until the greatest most monolithic punk guitar riff ever bursts forth, and Damon Edge parps:

“I don’t know why I should wait there - I don’t know why,
I gotta find a way there – I don’t know why,
Something you feel inside – I don’t know why,
Something I feel inside – I don’t know why,
Writing in the back of my poor mind.”

Sure, those are the lyrics, but Edge expels each syllable so radically, so sneeringly, so droolingly that his cud-chewing gob John Garner-ises beyond the words language. “TV as Eyes” then collapses into the motorik Neu-ness of “Zombie Warfare” which itself falls in on itself to become a faceless industrial skank permeating through the perished air vents of some disused industrial estate. “March of the Chrome Police” returns us to super-catchy chorus territory, as Damon serenades us over a typical (though bass-less) garage rock riff, as usual undermined by the sheer sibilance of the hi-hats and the immensely bad mike technique of the backing vocalist, who sneers and agrees with the lead vocals, though at a volume at least twice as loud. “A cold clammy bombing will ruin your town” yammers Edge, “We’ll shit on your town”.

Damon Edge's poster insert for HALF MACHINE LIP MOVES

“You’ve been Duplicated” is another Damon Edge ‘hit’, containing an irresistible chorus and Wild West twanging guitar, though its bright melodic light is sunk beneath layers of those exquisitely sibilant drums that Chrome went out of their way to achieve. Unless these guys spent hours just building up supplies of readymade music concrete with which to pour over otherwise sonically acceptable songs, it surely cannot have been easy to create a sound this degraded, this stinky, this contaminated. Side one concludes with the vile anarchy of “Mondo Anthem”, whose interminable three minutes of cut-ups shoehorns together drum-machine freakouts and buzzing riffy guitar bludgeon, and speeded-up 50s vocal music as though produced by a Frank Zappa who had dropped acid with Faust and thereafter disowned all his classical allusions in favour of home-made Harry Partch-style percussion. Imagine The Residents’ “Six Things To A Cycle” through a ring modulator, and yooz somewhere close. The album’s title track that commences side two is again deep in Residents territory, about as catchy as their “Satisfaction” 45 and still presenting me with shocks after twenty-five years of playing it. The vocals are as arch as those of The Mothers on ABSOLUTELY FREE, and each track segues mercilessly and seamlessly into the next, creating as psychedelic trip as ever there was. However, I gots to admit Chrome lost even me on this side of the disc. It really is too ‘to too’ to put a finger on. Is this track “Abstract nympho”? Or was that last fade out a part of “Turned Around”? I dunno, keep listening and keep navigating and maybe we’ll find a signpost, a side street, a lay-by, anything to help us in this disorientating morass of sound FX. Sometimes, a moment of coherence as a punk reference slips through, but always it’s back into the tidal wave of chaos. Only with the under two minutes of “Turned Around” does anything like a catchy chorus surface out of the ether, but we’re soon by Turkish robots playing Hawkwind’s “You Shouldn’t Do That” (“Zero Time”) or two minutes of late Can as played by BABYFINGERS-period Residents (“Creature Eternal”). A whole LP if this stuff would be a settler for the listener, a storming chaos that could act as a psychic poultice to the tortured brain. Unfortunately, there’s not enough of anything for it to act positively and “Critical Mass” concludes the LP disappointingly, being no more than a tough but highly anonymous riff with which to fade back into the ether.

And Thereafter Did They Slowly Change & Dissolve

RED EXPOSURE was Chrome's first major label release, recorded by the duo of Helios Creed and Damon Edge

Commissioned for a Frisco porn show early on in their career, ULTRA SOUNDTRACK was rejected for being to radical, and was subsequently forgotten.

Much of Chrome’s Buchla confusion and tinnitus-inducing drum-led groove receded into the middle distance after the salvo of the three opening LPs. Unfortunately, signing to Beggar’s Banquet in the UK coincided with the band’s reducing to just the kernel of Edge and Helios Creed. RED EXPOSURE contained many fine moments from the duo, indeed side two of that record is as gloriously scripted and consistent a piece of Chrome work as any. But Chrome’s fire-breathing dragon no longer had an amphetamine pessary up his psychic jacksie, and each subsequent release paled before the sounds of its predecessors. When Helios Creed left to record the first of many intriguing solo LPs, Chrome became a successful vehicle for Damon Edge, whose European career was facilitated by his use of French musicians. But these late records bear none of the Chrome hallmark sound, as Edge now neither drummed nor applied that smear mouth radioactive gum-chewing vocal to his songs. Nevertheless, anyone who chooses to equip themselves with the records discussed above, will soon discover that ALIEN SOUNDTRACKS especially, and HALF MACHINE LIP MOVES (to a slightly lesser extent) are definitely as important a musical Year Zero as the albums of their more eulogised contemporaries. Moreover, uncovering more of the early Chrome trip can still be a fragmented and frustrating gas as I discovered earlier this year, when I missed by minutes the opportunity to win on eBay a rare reel-to-reel tape of their ULTRA SOUNDTRACK, a real Holy Grail Chrome relic that was recorded in San Francisco for a porn show but never used. So re-excavation of the Chrome canon can only irrigate the muse of those who choose to shine their own flashlight into that intriguing and mythical place, and I’m sure that much still awaits us down in Damon Edge’s basement… if you’d care to go down there.

  1. Don Buchla created some of the most intriguingly experimental synthesizers of the early period, building keyboardless analogue synthesizers that operated on a key system that seemed to mirror the workings of his own mind. Looking at them now, it’s easy to see why they failed commercially. Unlike the ever pragmatic Bob Moog, who began as an instrument salesman working out of the back of his car (and therefore grasped what the market ‘required’), Don Buchla stayed in his laboratory digging deeper and deeper. Like Chrome, Ed Wilcox’s Temple of Bon Matin has also used Buchla synthesizers with dramatic success.
  2. Ironically, Chrome’s “Electric Chair” (from RED EXPOSURE) was covered by Mikey Wild on his twenty-five-years-too-late album I WAS A PUNK BEFORE YOU WERE A PUNK. However, this Johnny Rotten-come-lately chose not to credit Chrome for the song and re-named it “The Crucifier”. Despite that failure, it’s an excellent drunken sprawl well worth searching out.
  3. Recorded on Cale’s LP SLOW DAZZLE (Island Records 1974)

Essential Discography
RED EXPOSURE (Siren 1980)