New Zealand - Full Moon 225 - 01/05/15
The BBC Sessions
The BBC Sessions is another stage in Fire Records' careful effort to rekindle some interest in The Chills, arguably New Zealands finest - if somewhat troubled - indie popband, before their first studio album in 19 years is being released later this year. First, the live 'Something Beautiful' was released in 2013. Then came the quite decent albeit a bit flaccid new song 'Molten Gold'; electronically in 2013, and then as a 7" last summer (the 7", though, gained more interest for the re-recording of old fan favorite 'Pink Frost' - a song that 99% of Chills-fans consider to have been perfect the first time around). In the fall of 2014, The Chills toured Europe for the first time in 20 years, which prompted a
tour EP that was a re-release of the last set of new songs from The Chills, the subpar EP 'Stand By' from 2004 (with a couple of unreleased songs thrown in for good measure).
Now finally, following the release of their complete sessions for John Peel - recorded between 1985 and 1988, Europe should be ready for the new launch of The Chills. I say 'should', because if the previous career path of The Chills and Martin Phillips is anything to go by, everything bad that can happen to an ambitious yet sympathetic band (bad decisions, deaths, record company changes, lackluster production, drugs -prescribed and not, illness, etc. etc.) will happen. However, I for one cross my fingers that Martin Phillips now will get the position and widespread recognition he should have attained in the early 90s.
The versions of the 12 songs on The BBC Sessions will be new for the casual (if there is such a thing) Chills-fan. However, all of them was featured on the very limited (1,000 ex) and appropriately named Secret Box, a three CD-set with b-sides, unreleased live songs, radio sessions etc. that Martin Philips released himself in 2000. The sound quality is better this time around, although personally I am not too taken with the slight extra reverb having been added to at least some of the songs. However, this has the side effect that the production sounds quite close to The Chills' first album, Brave Words, from 1987 (although not as muddy).
Although there are a couple of (really good) unreleased songs here ('Moonlight on Flesh' and 'Christmas Chimes') and an obscure b-side ('Living in a Jungle'), the rest of the songs are well-known to those having The Chills' regular albums. The versions, although sometimes dating a few years ahead of their first studio incarnations, are pretty close to the released versions. Sometimes, though, they come across as more direct and energetic and in most case on par or better than the studio versions. The Chills have never been a band known for studio wizardry so no wonder that the live versions are close to the studio versions, but most of their studio work suffered from a slick and boring type of production that in my opinion failed to bring out the best in the songs and arrangements. Therefore, it is quite refreshing to hear the three songs from the sophomore album, Submarine Bells (1990), in a rougher form here. The best version compared to the studio version, though, is their first release, 'Rolling Moon', recorded here three years after its initial release, played faster and more confidently than they probably were able to when recording the single as 18-19 years olds in 1982.
Ever since Submarine Bells all main Chills-releases have used 'SB' as a guiding motive (Soft Bomb, Sunburnt, Stand By, Something Beautiful), so my only complaint with The BBC Sessions is that it wasn't named in French: le Sessions BBC.
[Editor's epilogue note: All the 12 tracks on The BBC Sessions were compiled on Secret Box's disc two, "Salvaged Bullion" (another 'SB', along with the titles of discs one and three, "Sonic Bygones" and "Singular Booty"), so this is not about unveiling some old, lost gems. The oddities of this album count "Living in a Jungle", off the House With A Hundred Rooms 12" single. Later it was added as a bonus track on the CD version of Brave Words, and shortly after that it was distributed once more, on the Heavenly Pop Hits best of.../compilation. Finally, it appeared on Secret Box, along with another oddity song recorded for BBC, "Moonlight on Flesh". The third of the rare tracks is "Christmas Chimes", which is another song from the Submarine... area. They all made it to the 'odds and sodds jewel box'. But, mind you, the Secret Box : Chills Rarities 1980-2000 box set (which marked The Chills' 20th anniversary). It was only relased and sold via The Chills' website, in a very limited edition: 500 autographed and hand-numbered copies were issued, followed by a repressing of another 500 copies.]
Copyright © 2015 Asle H. Kiran