Silver Bullets took me totally by surprise. The Chills were one of my favorite bands of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. They were at the vanguard of the New Zealand indie rock scene and they opened the doors for fellow kiwis, the Clean, the Bats, the 3D’s, Tall Dwarfs and more to sneak into world consciousness. The Chills put out four fantastic albums but never broke big commercially. After being dropped by their US label, Martin Phillips (the sole constant in the ever evolving Chills lineup) sank into a deep depression, drug dependency and life-threatening Hepatitis C.
In the 19 years since the last Chills record, Sunburnt, was released, the band has done the occasional gig and released a few collections of demos and rarities. None of the news that filtered down the grapevine from New Zealand led me to think that we’d ever see anything new from the Chills. It looked like Martin was a spent creative force. I was wrong!
When I played the first single from the album, “Molten Gold”, I was dumbstruck. It sounds like the Chills without sounding like an artifact. The chiming guitars give the tune buoyancy; it’s a melodically upbeat tune. On the other hand, Martin is singing about descending into an abyss of depression, doubt and addiction. The molten gold he sings about is the love that helps him overcome the darkness and regain his creativity. “I Can’t Help You” also addresses the difficult choices faced by both Phillips and those around him. It’s a song about facing the truth and choosing to “get back in the chase.”
Phillips’ other major themes on Silver Bullets are environmental and global concerns. “Pyramid/When the Poor Can Reach the Moon” begins with the observation that, “too many people are hurting and not enough people are caring.” The epic piece begins as a dark meditation on inequality. “Pyramid” sinks toward a gloomy funk. There is nothing we can do, we’re just screwed so why should we try? Just when it feels like all hope is gone the song morphs into, “When The Poor Can Reach the Moon”, with it’s message of hope and optimism. It’s summarizes Phillips worldview, Things may be fucked up, but things don’t have to stay that way. You hear this idea echoed in. “Aurora Corona” where Phillips promise Gaia, that despite all the mistakes we’ve made and all the damage we’ve caused, we can do better.
Silver Bullets is a worthy addition to the Chills discography. It has a very clean and spacious sound. All the instruments have room breath, swoop and spin around Phillips voice. Martin has actually been working with this version of the Chills longer than any previous incarnation. In a recent interview, Phillips said he gave his band more freedom to develop their own parts on this record. They have learned how to realize his ideas. They did an excellent job.
I am thankful that after years in the wilderness, the Chills are back.