August 13, 2013

20,000 vinyl LPs 23: Chrisma ~ Chinese Restaurant

Chrisma ~ Chinese Restaurant
album cover photo
by Veronique Skavinska
photo of album cover by Styrous®

In 1978 Tom asked what I wanted for a present. Without a second of hesitation, I replied, "The most fantastic new wave music you can find." And that is exactly what I got.  

The album was Chinese Restaurant. Over the years it has become my all-time favorite new wave album; at the top of the list, numero uno. There was never anything like it before or since.

It was produced by an Italian punk-rock group with the name Chrisma (based on the organizers names, Christina Moser and husband Maurizio Arcieri). The name was later changed to Krisma.

Chinese Restaurant was recorded in the studios of Vangelis and produced by his brother, Niko Papathanassiou. Vangelis may have played on it himself but this has never been confirmed. Recorded in 1977, it was released that same year on Polydor.

(click on any photo to see slideshow)
Chrisma ~ Chinese Restaurant back cover
back cover photo by Veronique Skavinska
photo of album cover back by Styrous®


The music is an incredible range of styles. The opening instrumental piece, Thank You, starts with a drum kit, hi-hat, bass guitar, tambourine and synthesizer which are eventually joined by a theremin (an early electronic instrument invented by Lev Sergeyevich Termen, patented in 1928).

Léon Theremin (American spelling)
(1896-1993)
photographers unknown

Thank You is sinister, mostly because of its constant minor key modulations, and I vividly remember when I heard it for the first time, I expected the Frankenstein monster to come walking through the door. The theremin swirls around the synthesizer in a marvelous duet that slowly builds to a fantastic, eerie crescendo until it abruptly ends and sharply peters out, leaving you suspended breathlessly in mid-air. If you crash, your problem. I LUV it.

Then there is the fast, bouncy beat of Black Silk Stocking. A sensational song that demands you: 
    "Put your hand inside it, and she'll tell you where to find it,
            black silk stocking, black silk stocking". 
    "You think she's going to leave you,
            but she only wants to see you in her,
            black silk stocking, black silk stocking". 
A very provocative prelude to the next song, Lola.

Lola is a quietly boingy, springy (don't know other words to describe it) but beautifully sensual tango with a dreamy violin-synthesizer (?) and Spanish guitar accompanying the singer. Lola works in the Chinese Restaurant ("Sipping her cocktails"). She hates her clients and she kills them.

Lycee is a haunting, echoey and very slow, incredibly dramatic, dirge-like song that tells of the death of a young women lying in the street in the rain while a man watches through his window. "I, still hear her cry, I feel I want to die". True, a depressing theme but an incredible acoustical experience like nothing you've ever heard before. It winds down in a dissonant cacophony and ends with what sounds like a bouncing ball but I think it's a heartbeat (?).

Mandoia starts suddenly with an extremely fast but smooth beat with a staccato synthesizer surfing over it. It's like jumping onto a train while it's in mid-transit:
          "so schön* you can komm…",
          "so schön* you can komm…"
                      *schön (beautiful)

There are a couple of punk-like songs (Wanderlust, What For?, C-Rock) as well that are really fantastic with a new wave twist.

The album ends with a reprise of, Thank You, except this time it has words as if spoken over a telephone. It acknowledges the contribution of the people/groups that have made pop music what it is:

"We would like to thank:"

Lonnie Donegan
Eddie Cochran
Fats Domino
Jerry Lee Lewis
Little Richard
Bill Haley
Chuck Berry
Wanda Jackson
Charlie Watts
The Boys
Mick Jagger
The Saints
Bill Wyman
Iggy Pop
Neu (Ney)

There are many other acknowledgements as well (some humorous), such as:
   "The traffic warden: for the 52 parking tickets" and
  "The publishers: for allowing us to earn 50% OF OUR RIGHTS").

Album credits:

    Acoustic Guitar – Christina*1
    Arranged By, Producer – Niko Papathanassiou
    Artwork – Claudio Gobbi
    Drums – G. Durini
    Drums, Bass, Synthesizer, Keyboards, Timpani, Percussion 
                                                         – Niko Papathanassiou
    Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar – E. Vevey
    Engineer – Dave Marinone, Keith Spencer-Allen
    Mixed By – Dave Marinone, Niko Papathanassiou
   Programmed By – Keith Spencer-Allen
    Synthesizer – Maurizio*2
    Written-By – J. Scott* (tracks: A2, A3, A5 to B2),
    Written-By – M. Arcieri*2, N. Papathanassiou*3
                                    (tracks: A1, A4 to B1, B3, B4)
    Photography By – Veronique Skavinska*4  


*1 Wife of Maurizio Arcieri
*2  Husband of Christina Moser
*3 Brother of Vangelis
*4 Wife of Vangelis

Thank You (instrumental version) can be heard on YouTube
Thank You (dialogue version) can be heard on YouTube
Black Silk Stocking can be heard on YouTube
Lola can be heard on YouTube
C-Rock can be heard on YouTube
What For? can be heard on YouTube

Chrisma website 
Vangelis website

to wind things up

The songs are sinister and depressing at times but musically and qualitatively the best I've ever heard in a pop music album. Not that there aren't groups who have done sinister and depressing (Pink Floyd, Lou Reed, Nick Cave, etc.) but not like this. When I've sold my 20,000 vinyl LP collection, this is one album I'll save for the sentimental value.

It's a fantastic, one-of-a-kind album!

Chrisma ~ Chinese Restaurant gatefold interior
interior photo by Veronique Skavinska
photo of album interior by Styrous®


Thanks for giving me the album, Tom, I'm eternally grateful. And thanks, Chrisma, for mind-blowing music that even today is ahead of it's time, after 35 years. I love your music and I always will.   


Styrous© ~ Wednesday, August 13, 2013

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