This album is for fans of the post-punk sound, but I'm a big one. It's based on cold, echoing, reverberating guitars, much like its contemporaries by The Cure, New Order, and The Comsat Angels. But even though I'd heard these ideas many times before, Script Of The Bridge still offered me enough to warrant close attention. As in all the best post-punk, those echoing guitar chords are often arranged into hypnotic riffs that make effective use of pauses and changes in volume, such as the confident, weary stride of "Less Than Human." Even when the riff itself is pretty simple, there is some interesting detail in the execution. The hook in "Second Skin" is the same drawn-out four-note rise/fall sequence that appears in countless new wave and ambient songs, but here, each long note is actually split up into many repetitions of the same note, played in a fast drone. In other words, they're creating a slow sound by playing fast, creating a strange contrast: a slow, majestic advance, but with a feeling of energetic motion.
"Second Skin" seems much shorter than its actual seven-minute length. It flies by so easily and gracefully that one might even miss how complex it is. The opening on keyboards is heavenly, as impeccably produced as music could get before electronica came along. It then breaks into the main body, with its slow/fast contrast, but then it slows down a bit for a dreamy, echoing outro, where singer Mark Burgess first marvels, "No wonder it feels like I'm walking on air," and then is overtaken by layers of overdubbed voices, worriedly muttering, "Something's banging on my door." The stuff dreams are made of, indeed.
"View From A Hill" is the album's other dreamy soundscape, more keyboard-oriented, with a much longer instrumental section. At the other end of the spectrum are a few up-tempo numbers, like the first track "Don't Fall" and the indignant "Paper Tigers." "Don't Fall" clearly shows the punk roots of post-punk with a simple driving rhythm and the muddiest production on the album. "Paper Tigers," on the other hand, is much more refined, with a galloping drone-riff, possibly the best of the whole album, plus a sorrowful, grieving chant-chorus.
It's impressive that this was The Chameleons' debut -- it's much more fully realized than Three Imaginary Boys, Movement, or Waiting For A Miracle. It does have some filler songs: it seems to me that "Monkeyland" is a bit slow to start, and breaks up the energetic standard set by "Don't Fall" and "Here Today." Still, the music never really sounds bad, it consistently ranges from OK to great. The only problem is Mark Burgess' voice, as in, he doesn't have much of one. He has his theatrics down, with the right dramatic intonation and high-class diction, but his acting is dead set on "desperate soliloquy" mode. This serves him well on "Second Skin" and "Paper Tigers," but his voice has little range, and sounds flat, without the commanding authority of Ian Curtis, the flexibility of Robert Smith, or the warmth of Ian McCulloch or Paul Simpson. I was somewhat reminded of the guy from Wire, if the latter had taken one theatre course.
Burgess wrote a set of lyrics to match. Every song is a grandiose display of angst, expressed in hyper-dramatic but totally unsubtle ways, e.g. "I surmise I'm less than human in God's eyes." On one hand, there's the ornate vocabulary ("surmise"!); on the other, there's the simple chant-like song structure. And yes, "Monkeyland" even features the line, "is there anyone here who understands me, anyone at all?" It's fortunate that the music is there to tip the scales. The droning power of the guitars often overwhelms the vocals, so that they are only half-discernible. I think it's for the better, allowing the album to create a mournful atmosphere, a wintry landscape that only occasionally comes into focus around the singer, who is unfortunately not strong enough to carry the album by himself.
This is a seasonal album, best suited for wintertime. If you're able to appreciate droning, ringing guitars and melancholy atmosphere, it's for you. In fact, it may help if you're already a connoisseur of post-punk, since you'll be better able to discern the ways in which Script Of The Bridge stands out from the rest. This particular style of music is able to create a faraway, dreamlike mood better than any other.