CHIN CHIN - Cry In Vain

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"This compilation features a career-spanning 14 tracks by Chin-Chin, the nearest thing Switzerland produced to a C86 band, and it’s vibrant, a little patchy and a lot of fun. Biel, 1982; an aspiring trio of punk and glam rock fans comes together to play music – Marie-Anne (drums, vocals), Esther (bass, vocals) and Karin (guitar, vocals), the only drawback being that Marie-Ann and Esther, who had been singers in a local band, had never played drums or bass before, and Karin, though she had a background in classical, acoustic guitar, had never played any kind of rock music. Undeterred, the group began to rehearse, working up a setlist of classic covers and originals, and before the end of 1983 they had begun to play shows around their hometown. The trio briefly expanded to a quartet with the addition of a singer called Carol, and recorded their debut single, “We Don’t Wanna Be Prisoners” before returning to the original trio format, who went on to release an album in 1985, a final single in 1986 and toured with like-minded Scottish indie legends The Shop Assistants. Chin-Chin were signed by the Shop Assistants’ management and soldiered on for a few years, recorded a radio session for BBC Radio One’s Janice Long show and then split, leaving a small but perfectly-formed discography behind them.

The selling point of Cry in Vain is that, unlike previous Chin-Chin reissues – that is, 53rd & 3rd Records’ long out-of-print Stop! Your Crying – it features that Janice Long session, which includes four songs that the band didn’t record elsewhere. Those tracks fit so perfectly within the Chin-Chin discography that the album doesn’t feel like a compilation at all. In part that’s because the band’s approach – up-tempo, Ramones-like punk tracks loaded with catchy pop hooks – never really changed, but it’s also because the typically frill-less radio session production is about as good as the sound of their records ever got – and it suited them perfectly. The opening “Cheat Boy Cheat” has the exact same blend of rushing guitars and nostalgic melodies – aside from the chirpiness, their songs have more in common melodically with the Jesus and Mary Chain than the Ramones – as all of their better-known material. Like most of the tracks on their only studio album Sound of the Westway, “Cheat Boy Cheat” is a teenage, bittersweet treat. “Inescapable” is more of the same, while “Nowhere to Run” has a ‘60s girl-group-meets-Blondie flavour, complete with a Ronettes-style baion beat intro. Despite its title, the last radio-only track, “Surf Beat” starts out sounding almost like the massed guitars of The Cult’s “She Sells Sanctuary” but it quickly becomes a more Beach Boys-inspired onslaught that sounds as much like Shonen Knife as anything, and is therefore quite likeable, though its melody isn’t especially distinguished.

Listening to “Cry in Vain” from the B-side of the band’s second and last single “Stop! Your Crying,” it’s obvious why the Shop Assistants’ management found the band so appealing. Pure C86 power-pop, it’s punky and poignant, powerful but with an appealingly unpolished, almost twee edge. Five tracks from their album Sound of the Westway are scattered throughout the collection and they blend seamlessly with their surroundings. The superb, touching “Dark Days” sounds like the Ramones’ “Don’t Come Close” being played by first-album-era Blondie, but Chin-Chin always have their own slightly ragged appeal that transcends those comparisons. “My Guy” is similarly frothily happy-sad, while “Never Surrender” is a faster, more punk version of the same thing, with its defiant-but-not-despairing message; “No future but we’ll never surrender, don’t try to bring us down.” “Stay with Me” is a classic C86-style sweet-jagged pop song but “Jungle of Fear” is a little more sophisticated and ambitious, with the same basic sound but a more considered approach. It works well but a little but it’s one of the tracks where a little more polish in the production would have been nice.

“Revolution,” from the “Stop! Your Crying” single broadens the sound a little with some well-incorporated sax and has one of the band’s most effervescent melodies, while “Stop! Your Crying” itself is good but feels oddly under-powered despite some fantastic, energetic drumming and buzzsaw guitars. Cry in Vain is rounded off by two of the three tracks from the band’s 1984 debut single, “We Don’t Wanna Be Prisoners;” the title track and “The World’s Burning.” The former is choppy post-punk, with some vaguely reggae-ish dynamics and is quite unlike the more sentimentally-toned material, whereas the latter sounds like early U2 to begin with, before taking on a more X-Ray Spex feel. Neither song is quite up to the standards of the later material but it’s good to have them and the band’s passion and natural ability shines through, even if the songs don’t tug at the heartstrings in quite the usual way.

Cry in Vain is an excellent, well-chosen compilation, but given the slenderness of Chin-Chin’s output it might have made more sense to just put out a double album – there wasn’t really enough for a box set – containing everything the band ever recorded. Still, Sealed Records have done the band and their fans a service by finally making that excellent Janice Long session commercially available and hopefully Cry in Vain will find a place in the collection of anyone who loves Blondie, Altered Images, the Shop Assistants, post-punk girl-groups or the whole world of C86 and power-pop."   

- Will Pinfold, Spectrum Culture

A1 Cheat Boy Cheat
A2 Inescapable
A3 Nowhere To Run
A4 Surf Beat
A5 Cry In Vain
A6 Dark Days
A7 My Guy
B1 Never Surrender
B2 Revolution
B3 Stay With Me
B4 Stop! Your Crying
B5 Jungle Of Fear
B6 We Don't Wanna Be Prisoners
B7 The World's Burning