Chicane — Easy to assemble. Story behind his third unreleased album

George Palladev 10.09.2018

Chicane — Easy to assemble. Story behind his third unreleased album

This is an extraordinary album. In large part because it remained an unreleased third studio album and also because it is 95% stylistically homogenous.

The success of No ordinary morning, Saltwater and Don’t give up, especially the latter, which went to the top of the British charts replacing Madonna (interviewers love this fact), and the entire Behind the Sun album inspired confidence and changed the tracklist of the next record in favour of guest singers. The Xtravaganza label, which raised Nick didn’t like it so much. Yes, in the 90s their views were the same: they released fashionable dance and near-dance music, and Nick was the main trophy of the label back then. He was happy to have his hands untied, but at the same time, Nick claimed that he was interested not only in beach instrumentals, but also in real songs: “People have this idea that you’re only capable of one thing, I want to do everything from film scores to pop music, I’ve never been one for music snobbery.” Xtravaganza was increasingly moving towards groovy and heavy trance. And here was Nick sketching the third studio album with a semi-Balearic and semi-pop house sound.

In defending his interest, Nick became involved in a long-running legal battle with the once-friendly haven. Three years later, after spending a lot of effort and money, he finally managed to regain the right to release music as Chicane.

The record In praise of the Sun is regarded as the first success. It was released together with Brian Higgins and Nick Coter back in 2001, during a stagnant period. The original song is a chill out on a summer afternoon. For the album version, Nick made the song faster and gave the rhythm a soft road mood. Any music is nice to listen to on the road, but many of those who have tried Bracegirdle’s third studio album notice that the drums and percussion go precisely along the broken lines of the road markings. Perhaps this is the encrypted meaning of the disc’s name—assemble the luggage and hit the road, not forgetting the album.

“I am fed up with bad dance records and pop records with no substance just being churned out one after the either. That is what drove me with my new album Easy to assemble. I wanted to create something that was different—not only to what else is around at the moment—but also to my previous albums, which were more conceptual with a beginning, middle and end. This one is more a collection of vocal songs, lots of strong melodies. Not too much down-beat stuff, it’s all pretty much up.”

Amazingly, the album is full of special effects and sound gimmicks but they don’t interfere with this perception at all. Sometimes it seems that there isn’t a single sound left on the disc that can be called clean, without flangers or phasers (maybe except for the voice of Adams). But Nick, either dissatisfied with himself or with musical reality in general, created his own reality on the disc. Knowing his present, we can say that Easy to assemble was the door to a new life that Chicane dreamed of after the Ibiza odes.

Those who didn’t discover this sunny unofficial album but got Somersault (officially third, but extremely weak), didn’t get the joke—the former sound was done with. But even here, in Easy to assemble, the inspirations of the former idols weren’t particularly noticeable—Jarre, Vangelis, Tangerine Dream—all these cool keyboard passages and powerful arpeggio parts remained on the first two albums. Nick played his second passion, the guitar, and he sampled it with great pleasure. This album, although different from the previous ones, was not as opportunistic as the following ones. And it wasn’t very similar to the discs of other musicians.

Peter Cunnah (vocal on Love on the Run) and Nick. “We were looking for someone to front the song who had a really good voice. Peter Cunnah was perfect—not only because he has a strong voice but he’s also excellent performer”

Chicane moved into the Warner group. He began to test the water and the obvious radio hit Love on the Run was the first to be released. “That’s probably the most commercial cut on the album. It’s the track that marks the transition between the last album and this one”, explains Nick. East side story, as the author mentioned with laughter, doesn’t look like the coolest thing on the album, but it’s probably the best thing he did at the time. “Bryan came up with some lyrics and it was ideal for his voice so that was that!”

Bryan Adams with guitar. Chicane with a hardware. Nick: “East side story a very different song to Dont’ give up. It’s probably the most untrendy song on the album. It’s sort of middle of the road, but it’s fantastic song, probably the best song I’ve ever written.”

Interestingly, their collaboration began when Bryan called Nick a few years earlier, but Nick had no idea who he was: “Which Adams? Are you an Australian writer?” Almost. Canadian rock musician :-) And even though East side story stands out from the rest of the A-side, it fits the general outline smoothly, serving as a boundary between the hits In praise of the Sun and Daylight.

They turned out to be hits due to the simplicity of the accompaniment and clarity of the texts. Although compared to East side story, the rest is not even so much poetry, but rather small marginal notes or rhyming impressions: short and not too deep. Nick wasn’t lying, there are a lot of catchy things on the album and every second could be released as a single. Like, for example, Daylight, which promised to be the third single of the album and even appeared in the form of promos, even though it’s just a guitar riff with a recurring melodic part and tuned vocals by Tracy Ackerman, the author of the song.

Jewel & Nick in a recording studio in New York. November 2002

For the recording of Spirit (also the brainchild of Ackerman), Nick flew to New York for one day, recorded Jewel and immediately came back. Nick also says it’s one of his favourite and wants to release it as a single, even after all these years. (He also talks about a deluxe edition of the disc one day/sometime.)

Then the album splits: there is a place for instrumental tracks and songs with a club bass drum. While on the A-side the songs were in a single flow, the mood in the second half of the disc goes back and forth. Arizona is very colourful: it’s about sky, moonlit rocks, falling stars, and the general enchantment of the place. This is where he started the tradition of leaving one or two beautiful and quiet things on the discs like in the good old days, thus calming his fans—this is not his evil twin brother, it’s the same Nick, just more versatile now.

There used to be Saltwater in Celtic, and now there’s Locking down in Bengali. As usual, Tracy Ackerman brought the text in English and, after a session with the original version, the performer Melissa Batten offered to translate the lines into one of the official languages of India. The result was released as a single, the last full-fledged one before the release of the album.

Nick in his studio. Early 2000s

In the early 2000s, the Warner group experienced huge financial difficulties from the merger with the Internet giant America Online and was given to the businessman and investor Edgar Bronfman Jr. He began to optimise costs. It completely changed the department responsible for musicians and their repertoire. Nick’s finished album was put on hold while 50 promos had already been sent to leading publishing houses for reviews. At this time, the album leaked online. These weren’t torrents yet but there was no centre anymore—each person who downloaded the album gave it to someone else.

From the Internet, the album immediately hits the shelves—the pirates took the cover of the Love on the Run single and used it for Easy to assemble. Inside, there was an article anticipating the third studio album. Nick declares the termination of the contract—“It was two years’ work down the drain.”

The album release was planned for September 2003. But after the summer leak, it was decided to postpone it to early 2004 and add some fresh bonus tracks to the finished material, one of which was meant to become a single in June, and release Easy to assemble itself in July. Then everything was moved to the autumn. Nick finally left Warner and planned to release the album independently but managed to do so only with the next (de facto) fourth Somersault by remortgaging his house and selling his Ferrari (fortunately, he had a whole fleet of vehicles).

In total, Nick invested about 400 000 pounds in Somersault (almost a million dollars at the 2007 exchange rate, receiving disappointing comments from music magazines in return.) The chain of promises ended in early 2005 when the decision was made to leave the unreleased album behind and focus on other studio work. Easy to assemble remained only in promos. They are now sold for 150 pounds ($225 for eleven songs, half of which have never been officially released. That is $20.50 for a track—something that iTunes and Bandcamp wouldn’t dream of).