Speaking to the audience at The Brudenell Social club in Leeds in the middle of last year, Chills front man Martin Phillips had more reasons to look both forward and back than most. In the rear view mirror he took time out to remember a gig in the same city in 1987 supporting Nico, at which the band played as if their lives depended on it to a crowd purportedly in the low single digits. Whilst age might have numbed the bitterness of that evening, there was however no mistaking he pride with which he told the crowd that he would be finishing off a new Chills album - the band's first in almost 20 years - entitled Silver Bullets, before then playing Aurora Corona, one of several of its songs to make it into the evening's setlist.
He had every reason to be proud: emerging from the near legendary Dunedin scene of the early 1980's and also alumni of the bona fide legendary Kiwi label Flying Nun, both him and The Chills have unwittingly snatched defeat from the jaws of global success on several occasions. Now in his fifties and dealing with the long term effects of a decade spent in various states of dependency to drugs and alcohol, it would be easy to sympathise with a man turned poetically bitter by bad luck and worse choices. Instead Silver Bullets is a record born of a romantic's perspective, full of warmth and hope, not just for a specific person of desire, but just as much for people, the many different faces from which our twenty first century society is comprised.
Another more obvious victory is the re-assembly of The Chills creative id, of which a stable line up has enabled Phillips to piece back together like a thousand piece jigsaw. Rarely less than eclectic, their back catalogue can be as bumpy as a country road, but on the ode to intimacy Warm Waveform all their blissful nooks and crannies are mapped in gorgeous detail, the mercurially layered guitar textures and cloistered pop nodding back to their opus release, 1990's Submarine Bells. Love isn't always the subject of his songs - at least overtly, but the affection spills over across the words here, a character distilled he claims from the hybrid richness of several different women.
If that's disarming, much of the rest of Silver Bullets is an exploration of the space around us. On the title track the ammunition is to be used for the purposes of revolution (To be thrown down on a heinous vampire, with an evil empire, as the lyrics go) or more simply the planet's manipulative ruling class, whilst the conjoined Pyramid/When The Poor Can Reach The Moon deals with the same subject, but a more liberating result. The latter song is in fact as close to the perfection as Phillips has got since the long celebrated Heavenly Pop Hit proved to be the former but not the latter, a glorious light leading out of the former's darkness to a sweetly harmonised idealism, agit-prop soaked in sunshine and sing-a-long inclusivity.
Another area revisited is the planet's dire ecological state, both on the plaintive Underwater Wasteland - formed mostly by a simple set of chords picked out of the swell - and also Aurora Corona, whose big rolling melodies and flashing cymbals are an offering to Gaia, an Earth Spirit of whom the plea is made not "To wash us all away" as penance for repeated sins and self-destruction. If it's considered unhip to rally to causes in today's entertainment world, Phillips seems to bear it no mind, fantasising on America Says Hello about a super power rediscovering it's sense of humanity and in the process reinserting itself into the world around it. It is as the singer admits a naïve hope, but one at least he's prepared to talk about.
One of Silver Bullets most appealing qualities is that despite its conscience, the listener never feels like they're being lectured, rather drawn in and deliberately fascinated. The final note is one from Phillips to himself: closer Molten Gold deals with the realisation that addiction and insecurity are merely different ways of being alone, the product a redemptory song etched with motifs of the resulting journey to now. Having stood at the precipices of both fame and nothingness, it's hard not to feel that both he and The Chills deserve a little happiness and peace. With this album, they seem likely to get both.
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