Graham Reid | | 3 min read
In the past few decades we've become so conditioned to long periods between albums (talkin' 'bout you Blue Nile and Scott Walker) that these days we think nothing of a gap of five or even 10 years.
But to learn that the British post-punk band Penetration are releasing their first album in 36 years – yes, thirty-six years -- still catches you off guard.
Jeez, how many people were baying for that one?
The last time they released an album CDs hadn't been invented and Taylor Swift's mum was still short of her 21st birthday.
Which means it's hardly worth observing that Silver Bullets is the first Chills album of new material in 19 years.
In the comparison with Penetration's Pauline Murray, the mainman of the Chills -- Martin Phillipps – seems positively hasty.
And as to the question, how many people were baying for this one? The answer would be . . . a considerable number.
Although there seemed slightly diminishing returns on the previous Chills album Sunburnt in '96 (Phillipps and session musicians) after the excellent psych-rock-cum-pop of Submarine Bells ('90) and Soft Bomb ('92), the sheer breadth of Phillipps' writing – from early songs like I Love My Leather Jacket and Pink Frost through to the sublime Heavenly Pop Hit, which actually lived up to its title -- spoke of a gift that would not simply evaporate with time.
If the Secret Box collection of 2000 (another in a long line of releases with the SB acronym) was mostly for loyalists – a three CD set of live shots, B-sides and demos -- it and last year's BBC Sessions (recorded live in the late Eighties) reminded you of just how enduring Phillipps' songs were.
And how, at their best, the Chills (whoever they might be) could bring them to life.
The most recent single, the delightful Molten Gold of two years ago – included on Silver Bullets -- from this well-established edition of a band notorious for its line-up changes certainly set the bar high again.
So it's a pleasure to report that Silver Bullets – with just one peculiar mis-step – not only harks back to an identifiably urgent Chills sound but delivers songs which count among Phillipps' best.
But far from sounded rooted in some glorious heyday, this collection also sparks up as something contemporary: the standout and bristling America Says Hello alludes current global politics and mentions a property boom: the two-parter Pyramid/When the Poor Reach the Moon (recorded in Thailand) about the imbalance of money'n'power in our world has a sonic bounce'n'slap in its first half but then turns darker and more discordant to punch home the message.
The title track is propelled by a forward momentum with a timeless pop-rock substructure (REM sometimes possessed this precision) and has powerful political message within its vampire/blood lyrics. And here, as has been his hallmark, Phillipps is astute with his use of the dramatic sonic pause.
The subaquatic sound of Underwater Wasteland is another in a long line of brooding rumination where there is an unearthly quality – sometimes in his back-catalogue he's in distant space, at other times beneath the waves. It wears his eco-consciousness overtly, and with a poetic sensibility so it doesn't come off as a polemic. The closing minute is a trip into psychedelic scuba diving.
Aurora Corona crashes into jangle pop with a swaggering confidence which, like so much here, combines his finely honed post-teenage pop enthusiasms and sensibilities with a post-hippie holistic view of the word. It's the only song I've heard which refers to “Gaia” and doesn't make me cringe. It's those guitars and Phillipps' commitment, I guess.
Martin Phillipps sounds like a man re-invigorated on Silver Bullets, but it's worth noting that these Chills actually sound like a band: guitarist/violinist Erica Scally, keyboard player Oli Wilson (who adds real depth and colour), bassist James Dickson and drummer Todd Knudson (often mixed to the fore) are equals in these songs.
The music is astutely produced (those guitars offering interweaving backdrops before stepping up for pointed solos) and – aside from Tomboy which sounds like an open apology to some girl at intermediate school, with kids in the chorus – this is as fine a local album you'll hear this year.
Even if the last Chills album came out when you were at playcentre or they are just a name from your mum'n'dad's record collection.
It goes without saying, I hope, that former fans should need no second invitation.
THE CHILLS AUSTRALASIAN TOUR DATES
Nov 7: Sammys, Dunedin with Brianjonestown Massacre
Dec 11: Galatos Auckland
Jan 11: McLaren Valley Festival Auckland
Jan 13: Sydney Festival Sydney
Jan 15: Max Watts Melbourne, Australia
March 8: New Zealand Arts Festival Wellington