Review of Somewhere Beautiful Album by The Chills

You may not be that familiar with The Chills if you were born after the final episode of 'The Word', so in an attempt to add some context, here goes. Formed in 1980 in Dunedin, New Zealand by singer/songwriter Martin Phillips, they were once on the roster of seminal Kiwi label Flying Nun before, having finally signed to a major, they released their highest profile album 'Submarine Bells' in 1992. Those of you born before Terry Christian got briefly famous may remember the album's precursory release 'Heavenly Pop Hit', a record whose title was probably meant as tongue in cheek but which dragged Phillips & co. to the verge of worldwide profile. A year later, they split up.   

The Chills Somewhere Beautiful Album

Success in the music world is frequently a cautionary tale and The Chills ever-rotating roster of personnel - a bit like a southern hemisphere version of The Fall - meant that the band were never an enterprise really built for churning out the number ones. As if to underline the fragile nature of their existence, a 1995 reformation has so far produced one album since; the following year's 'Sunburnt'; and a few sundry snippets of conversation around new directions. In short, Philips and whoever he's been buying drinks for since have largely been hermits.

Your update as of mid-2013, it was announced that 'Somewhere Beautiful' was due to be released as part of a distribution deal with Fire Records - itself something of a heritage label here. A live album recorded at a private party on New Year's Eve 2011, the premise is reassuringly askew, as is the quality of the recording which appears to have been done on equipment made at around the time 'Sunburnt' was released.

No matter, as what all this baggage slightly obscures is the fact that The Chills are still a sublime combination of delicacy and grit, Phillips' songs often containing the pathos which many of his contemporaries failed to capture with much sincerity. From the same golden era of the Antipodean acts that gave us The Go Betweens and the Triffids, they've aged remarkably well, peppering their set with early career songs such as the throbbing 'I Love My Leather Jacket' and the proto-indie jangle of 'Rolling Moon', both encores here.

Despite the occasional duff note and a lack of between songs patter, there's real joy in listening to 'Somewhere Beautiful' as the now five-piece line-up prove capable of managing the old songs' subtler nuances - 'Walk On the Beach', 'House With a Hundred Rooms' - whilst tilting gainfully as the tempo increases on 'February'. Probably the most poignant moment, however, is 'Canterbury Go!', written for the city shattered by an earthquake in 2010, the chorus of, "We got what it takes" penned as an obvious rallying call to rekindle the populaces self-belief.

All of these are the sound of a band on exuberantly rare form, but it's the material culled from 'Submarine Bells' that still underlines both the rights and wrongs of missed opportunities. As well as 'Heavenly Pop Hit''s still brilliant sheen, the likes of 'Part Past, Part Fiction' and 'Effloresce & Deliquesce' speak to a creativity which belied the era's general vacuousness, whilst the conflicted male perpetrator of 'The Male Monster From The Id' is at the centre of conscience rock at its most absorbing.

Such is the nature of The Chills, 'Somewhere Beautiful' may be a key to either their swansong or rebirth. Given that seemingly no-one, let alone Phillips himself, can predict the future it's also an opportunity to look into the past that shouldn't be missed.


Andy Peterson

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