The older I get, the more I learn to appreciate companions. That’s what indie pop is to lots of folk, methinks – a circle of lonely comrades, who can relate with each others’ lack of words in social situations and can bond over something bigger than all of us. But even in this realm of hand holding and cheerleading, there are those who reach out even further, who shoulder the burdens of many a troubled soul and could offer love to nations. Enter The Chills. Back in 1986, they proved themselves as more than another jangling Flying Nun outfit with the psychedelic escapades of Kaleidoscope World (and especially with 'Pink Frost', which even now makes me feel faint). Many albums later, Silver Bullets embarks on another journey; and while there’s fewer tracks than usual, the Chills travel even further than before.
As the stately 'Father Time' intro foreshadows – with its far-off chimes and choirs from heaven – this won’t always be a simple, light romp. Even in the skippity 'Warm Waveforms' that follows, you can see the falling leaves in the window. The guitar, soft and low. sounds like an old friend. Something about Martin Phillips’ voice invites intimacy, a closeness that even the wariest of introverts (i.e me) would welcome.
Of course, The Chills still ring clear on many a number, but not just to wax about love. The clamouring title track threatens harm to an unspecified party – perhaps figurative vampires: “You want to live life as a fantasy / until the blood flows round your feet”. In the joyous pace of 'Aurora Corona', Phillips begs the earth to have mercy on the foolish humans that have abused her – which sounds cheesy and preachy on paper, but when he sings “we can do better / beginning today”, it sounds like a promise of fidelity to the fairest lady, and you can’t help but believe him.
Still, these are nothing compared to the album’s feature length songs. 'Pyramids / When The Poor Can Reach The Moon' could have been two separate tracks - but the wondrous sing-song choir of the idyllic, Las-ish second half (“up there, at the top of the stair, staring down in wonder”) sounds all the more blissful juxtaposed with the throbbing first half. With lush, Bunnymen-like swirling, Phillips speaks of the widening gap between the rich and the poor, culminating in the ghastly jaded refrain “Don’t ask us to dream / just to be part of the scheme / Why should we try / when you just want us to die?” To merge the two halves – one a bitter rejection of hope, the other a incandescent embrace – affirms the Chills’ firm grasp on humanity, the deepest sympathy that informs all their best work.
Indeed, the mini cinemas of Silver Bullets showcase all of The Chills’ true strengths. The beautiful 'Underwater Wasteland' laments on over-fishing and water pollution with the same hazy watercolours that The Chameleons used to paint their howling visions. Phillips’ lyrics on 'America Says Hello' could certainly compete with Mark Burgess’s haunting riddles, as the first lyric contemplates both the beauty and frightening vastness of the universe, and another line taunts “They say Rome wasn’t burned in a day / but hey /we shall see”. All to this propulsive tune that soars and dips and suggests some sort of cosmic unity between us (I’m an American) and the rest of the world. It’s another outstretched hand, and I’ll gladly take it.
So is 'Tomboy', the most precious track on the album with its sweet violin caresses and the chiming kids’ choir and the most wonderful lyrics – “such a strange name / for such a strong girl”. Swoon. Yes. Someone else that understands why folks like me reject high heels and dresses and all those other expectations of how we’re supposed to look.
'Triumph' is a hefty term in this reviewing business, the kind that’s touted too often in movie trailers. But 'Molten Gold' concludes Silver Bullets like a victory lap - not because this is The Chills’ most compelling album yet (although it is), but because their heroic compassion inspires love, preaches empathy, sustains life. Praise them as saints.
9Lee Adcock's Score