17 Nov 2015

Silver Bullets by The Chills

From The Sampler, 7:35 pm on 17 November 2015
The Chills circa 2015

The Chills circa 2015 Photo: Alexander Hallag

Nick Bollinger reviews the first full album in almost two decades from Flying Nun flag bearers The Chills.

The Chills - Silver Bullets

Silver Bullets is the first full-length album from The Chills in nearly twenty years, yet in a strange way it’s like they have never been gone. Famous for their ever-changing line-up, The Chills is really the brand of Martin Phillipps, who formed the first Chills in Dunedin back in the early 80s; part of that initial boom of bands that for a long time would define that city’s sound. And one of the remarkable things about this latest album is that through all the changes in line-up, changes in technology, not to mention the personal changes anyone goes through over two decades, it still sounds so recognisably like the Chills. But it’s not just Phillipps’s voice, which remains tuneful and ageless with the same gentle guileless quality that characterised those early records; everything, from the chord changes he favours to the big reverbs, is like stepping into a forgotten but familiar room.

Perhaps more than any of his Dunedin peers, Martin Phillipps always had an affection and instinct for the classic pop song. While the Verlaines were taking their cues from Mahler, and the Clean delving into dark psychedelia, Phillipps would frame his verses around simple hummable hooks that stuck like bubblegum. And he clearly hasn’t lost that gift. But in a sense, Phillipps’s instinct for simplicity is the Trojan horse that allows him to address some complex and serious subjects, without sounding gloomy or portentous. Ecology has long been a concern of his work, and a new song like ‘Underwater Wasteland’ is almost childlike in the way it conjures its submarine world, yet also sounds a warning about what is really at stake. A concern not just for the planet but all of its inhabitants runs through these songs, but perhaps the closest he has come to writing an out and out social commentary comes in the second half of a two part medley, which he calls ‘When The Poor Can Reach The Moon’.

Silver Bullets is a big, beautiful and meaningful pop album; the kind Martin Phillipps might have been dreaming about when he was making those first four-track Chills recordings in Dunedin more than thirty years ago.

Songs played: Molten Gold, America Says Hello, Warm Waveform, Aurora Corona, Underwater Wasteland, When   The Poor Can Reach The Moon, Silver Bullets