Bill Nelson ‘Chimera’ (Mercury, 1983)

Say what you will about the rise of algorithms, but on occasion they do get it right. Somewhere between Michael Rother’s ‘Karussell’ and a banger from Supermax, my streaming platform shuffled up something unfamiliar while I was en route to collect a takeaway.

Like most rock obsessives, I knew that Bill Nelson was the driving force behind Be-Bop Deluxe and a guitar god to (mostly) men of a certain age. My only experience with his work, however, was the uber-synthy single ‘Flaming Desire’, which would sometimes pop up well past midnight on the video programmes of the early 1980s. Fast forward several decades to the night of that burger run and I find that I’m suddenly enchanted by a slice of pop electronica that’s equally catchy.

Originally released in 1983, ‘Acceleration’ was the second track on Nelson’s ‘Chimera’ EP – a project that began life as a collaboration of sorts with the late Yellow Magic Orchestra drummer Yukihiro Takahashi.

Nelson’s connection to Takahashi began some time after he was invited to guest on a session for guitarist Masami Tsuchiya, who was working on a record in the UK with some members of Japan.

Takahashi invited Nelson back to Japan to join the rest of YMO in the studio, and their creative bond began to set. The tapes the drummer later sent over to him had a kind of mechanistic drive, which slotted nicely alongside Kraftwerk and Telex, the type of European music Nelson talked about being into at that time.

Like Kraftwerk, he was able to rely on a Minimoog for pumping out uptempo basslines (albeit played without the use of a sequencer), but he was also very keen to add non-techno flavours to the mix. His ace marimba-playing is a feature of ‘Everyday Feels Like Another New Drug’, before he hands the solo section off to his late brother Ian, who added some tasty sax parts. And ‘Glow World’ sees a star turn on bass from Japan’s Mick Karn.

Nelson even beat Paul Hardcastle’s ‘19’ to the punch when he cut a variety of samples into ‘Hard Facts From The Fiction Department’. It’s a clear nod to some of the early electro he was exposed to on a trip to New York.

As it turns out, some bright spark at his US label thought combining ‘Chimera’ with some previously released singles and album tracks might get Nelson his due in the American charts in 1984. It wasn’t an entirely bad strategy, but at the time, radio’s gaze was too drawn to the rise of indie to notice the ‘Vistamix’ compilation.

Nelson gave up performing live on his 70th birthday due to the onset of an eye condition called macular degeneration. His ailments aside, he doesn’t seem concerned at all these days about whether he’s breached his cult following. He’s issued so much work in the past 40 years that Chimera’ looks less like an artistic peak, more just another strong thread in the fabric of his career.

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