Album Reviews - Reviews

The Chills – Silver Bullets

The Chills - Silver Bullets_hi

When it comes to The Chills‘ comeback, a great many folks have been running with the return-from-the-wilderness narrative. Not surprising considering it has been 18 years since their last album proper, 1996’s lackluster ‘Sunburnt’, and the subsequent publicity fade-out. One can imagine, however, that not for one second did Martin Phillipps stop running through melodies in his head. You can also imagine that he wasn’t going to launch back into it until he was good and ready. And so Silver Bullets, the result of a recent, joyously-consistent flurry of activity, suggests there’s a whole lot to be said for taking your goddamn time.

While there’s normally not a huge amount to be gained by comparing the new album to an LP release a quarter of a century ago, it will at least cheer long-term Chills fans to know that Silver Bullets fits perfectly next to Submarine Bells in terms of quality songwriting, shimmering production and lyrical ambition. The shorter jangly guitar pop songs do everything that you’d want of them, and in a way that seems almost novel now; direct, simple and melody rich. The title track zips along, guitars given acres of space in that somehow-specifically antipodean way you’ve grown used to with The Go-Betweens and later albums by The Clean. ‘I Can’t Help You’ is all irrepressible musical chirpiness, synths straight from the Raising Arizona soundtrack melded to relentless indie pop. In a very Chills move, it sets an odd but entirely right background for some tapped-out, resigned sentiments from Phillipps. 2013 single ‘Molten Gold’ makes a happy, re-recorded appearance, much in the same vein.

If there is one big difference to The Chills of old, it’s the willingness to stretch out a bit. Anyone who saw them on their wholly unexpected and very successful EU tour a couple of years back will have noticed that the majority of the new songs went beyond the four-minute mark, making use of the fivesome’s obvious musical flexibility. Longer songs don’t mean needless complexity, however. ‘Pyramid/When The Poor Can Reach The Moon’ is probably the album highlight, which I wouldn’t expect to have said for an eight-minute song on a Chills album. It’s immaculately arranged, two songs stitched together in what comes across as a genuine drama from beginning to end. Another melody or two and they would be in ‘A Quick One While He’s Away’ territory, minus the nonsense. It’s last few minutes come extremely close to replicating the sheer heart-bursting-out-of-chest readiness of ‘Heavenly Pop Hit’.

The environment, and what we’re doing to it, pops up quite a bit. ‘Aurora Corona’ is a plea to Gaia not to “wash us all away”, presumably an act of revenge for how dreadful we’ve all been, and again set against pure pop joy, weirdly musically reminiscent to these Western Irish ears as a less locally-inclined Saw Doctors. The personal is addressed as well, most successfully on ‘Warm Waveform’, all shout-outs to love and sex as the entire band keeps it heroically understated. One slight dip comes in the way of penultimate track ‘Tomboy’ which would be fine if it wasn’t for the word ‘Tomboy’ being sung again and again, and again.

For the most part, though, Silver Bullets is pretty much what people who have liked The Chills would want from a new Chills album, which is a relief more than anything. It easily stands with the best of their work. More of this, please. Brian Kelly

is also the frontman in Irish indie rock band So Cow.