A few months ago we took a trip out of Contact Towers to the big city (Which to us is Leeds, by the way), the purpose of which being to take in The Chills playing at the rather swish Belgrave Music Hall. Touring Silver Bullets, their first album of new material in nearly twenty years, the quintet - including the splendidly deranged sticksman Todd Knudson - arrived on stage to be confronted by an audience of no more than fourty, hard going for a band who'd played Primavera the previous Saturday evening.
And yet in a strange way the course of events was almost fitting. The Chills after all spent decades snatching defeat from the jaws of musical victory, passing on the opportunity of global recognition after their 1990 album Submarine Bells and it's soulful masterpiece of single Heavenly Pop Hit, a career dogged by personal tragedies, break ups, illness and other less savoury, career blunting enervations. Not that any artist deserves to have little recognition for their work (Ok, we can think of a few), but the veterans from the New Zealand town of Dunedin - of which they were the centrepiece of a movement known as the Dunedin Sound - have successfully negotiated so many rights of passage to date that this was nothing a word in the promoter's ear later couldn't get them over.
Kaleidoscope World reveals a band less sophisticated than the one which turned Submarine Bells into an almost hit, less orientated around the environmental crisis which even nearly thirty years ago was upon the planet, instead it's demons are more personal in nature . Originally released as an eight track compilation in early 1986, it seems to grow in scope each time it's revisited, the song roster now boasting three times that number, the latest additions secreted from the band's copious Smorgasbord of EP's, out-takes and found recordings.
This makes for a listening experience which is perhaps unsurprisingly pretty non-linear. Firstly there's the more familiar stuff, material which continues to feature in live sets as of now such as Rolling Moon, Pink Frost and I Love My Leather Jacket, the latter not on the album's original version but nevertheless a gloriously psychedelic hay ride in tribute to their original drummer Martyn Bull, who died of leukaemia in 1983. Time has also wrapped a sense of familiarity around the album's titular opener, a (Then) nascent jangle which wouldn't have sounded out of place in comparison to much of the C-86 oeuvre so popular in the UK's underground at the time. Both were a rough presentation of Sixties garage, off cuts from Lenny Kaye's Nuggets and frothy post punk to one degree or another: on the likes of Flame Thrower, Frantic Bite and Purple Girl it's a formula Chills lead songwriter Martin Phillips sticks faithfully to, with only the furious thrash of Bite having one worse than it's bark.
Given that the rest is by definition a bit random in selection, there are gems here and stuff that is less indispensable. In the definitely plus column: a grand live version of the relatively obscure b-side Green Eyed Owl, the always sardonic ode to living off the state Doledrums, Whole Weird World's splendidly dank Goth and the breakneck froth of Never, Never Go. Edging into that pot also is the wizened alt.country of Don't Even Know Her Name and the truncated, bratty nugget Hidden Bay, but Dream By Dream tries too hard and an earlier version of Submarine Bells' classic The Oncoming Day is interesting, but falls into the less than essential bracket.
Like playing to fourty people half way around the world on a Monday night, Kaleidoscope World is an exercise in having perspective. As a document it lacks the gravitas of works from a similar period from fellow Southern Hemisphere bands such as The Go-Betweens and The Triffids. It's unlikely also that Phillips and co. will ever eclipse the nearly sensation which their major label dalliance gave them. But neither of those things - or a host of other factors in the tri-decade whirl since they emerged from a New Zealand backwater - should be recognised for anything other than what they were, just pieces of the ride. Loved and giving love in return, The Chills remain as fascinating as ever.
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