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coverpic flag New Zealand - Full Moon 236 - 11/25/15

The Chills
Silver Bullets
Fire Records

For my part, whenever an old favorite gets out of retirement or makes some sort of comeback involving new material, the best I hope for is that said favorite does not make a total ass of him-/her-/themselves. I don't expect the new material to stand up to the old, and even if it does, I don't expect to become engulfed in the same way I did all those years ago, having sort of moved on from old favorites anyway.

Enter The Chills anno 2015. Granted, they haven't been retired - seeing as they've regularly played live since the early 2000's, and there's been the odd new material since the last proper album (Sunburnt, Flying Nun Records, 1996) - an EP here (Stand By, Flying Nun, 2004) and a single there (Molten Gold, Fire, 2013), but if anything, for me, those releases lowered any expectation of ever getting a good, solid Chills-album again. Therefore, upon hearing Silver Bullets I was quite pleasantly surprised indeed. In fact, I was excited. "Much better than expected, and way better than we deserve", was my initial (and public, on Facebook) reaction when I first it heard a few weeks ago.

Although I'm no longer sure why we didn't deserve a good album from Martin Phillips et al, my feeling is still, after having listened to it repeatedly, that this is not just a rock solid comeback, but an album that bides well for a future for The Chills; it doesn't feel contrived, the song writing is on par with Phillips' writing since the early 90's, the arrangements and production is as timeless as The Chills always have been.

One of the concerns that made me look forward to this release with some unease was Martin Phillips' voice. Footage from concerts on YouTube and the live album Somewhere Beautiful (Fire Records 2013) have indicated that age, and health and drugs-related issues have turned Phillips' voice from one of pop's finest to a faltering, decaying, mid-range mess. Not so. Of course, it's darker, more mellow and does not have quite the same range as before, but partly studio magic (no, I do not imply auto-tune) and partly adapted song writing - most songs having been written over the last couple of years - has eliminated the troubles that sometimes can be heard when her performs his old songs.

Lyricwise, Phillips' is still preoccupied with social and especially environmental issues. First displayed on Submarine Bells (1990), he's still worried about what kind of planet we leave to future generations, given pollution and the reigning politics. Although I personally miss the more personal issues that dominated his earlier work (giving us classic lines like 'I've got nothing to say to anyone / But I'd clear my mind to you / I've got nothing to say to anyone / But we can really talk us two / I've got nothing to say to anyone, anyone, anyone / Except you / I love you' from "Wet Blanket", 1987), there's no less reason to sing about these issues in 2015 than in 1990.

As per usual on Chills-albums, the songs varies a lot in style and expression - a friend of mine once said about The Chills' debut, Brave Words (1987), that if you asked 12 Chills-fans about their favorite track on the album you'd get 12 different answers. This holds to a certain degree also here, although there are a couple of tracks ("Aurora Corona" and "I Can't Help You") that isn't as strong as the rest and will have trouble finding advocates. We are treated to the blatantly poppy song ("Molten Gold" - in a sharper version here than on the two year old single); the covertly poppy one ("Warm Waveforms"); the ballad ("Tomboy"); the rockier one ("America Says Hello"); the proggy one ("Pyramid/When the Poor Can Reach the Moon" - yes, that's one song); the psych-pop one ("Underwater Wasteland"); the odd snippet ("Liquid Situation"); and of course, the title cut. Still, there's no lack of cohesion; it's always indubitably unquestionably The Chills. A very small point of grievance for me is that there are no song that almost breaks me down in tears, something that all previous Chills-album has, although the last sung line of the verses in "America Says Hello" almost do the job.

As a conclusion, then: a much better album than expected, and way better than we deserve (yeah... still don't know what that means).

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You may also want to check out our Chills articles/reviews: Kaleidoscope World (Deluxe Reissue), Molten Gold b/w Pink Frost, The BBC Sessions.

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