- by Steve Rhodes Release Date:2013-10-14 Label: Fire Records
Way before C86, The Wedding Present and The Smiths, at the start of the 80s, New Zealand and especially Dunedin was the centre of the universe as the prime purveyors of exciting, trebly and often jangly guitar music, all released through the excellent Flying Nun label. Along with The Clean and The Verlaines, The Chills were at the forefront, focussed around main-man Martin Phillipps. With 30-plus years behind him, a career with more ups and downs than any rollercoaster and a revolving line-up that almost matches The Fall, Martin has produced a consistent plethora of often acclaimed releases without really breaking into the mainstream outside of his home country, although the band remain a key influence to this day.
Recorded in 2011 at a New Years eve party, the triple live album Somewhere Beautiful boasts a set which decently reflects Martin's career and is a good starting point to experience the rawness and intensity of The Chills. Opener 'Night of Chilli Blue' sets the mood perfectly with its immediate, angular guitar-hooks, violin, cymbal-heavy drumming and piano. With edges of a sneering-less John Lydon and fellow New-Zealander Chris Knox in the vocal, it is a focussed and tight effort which translates excellently, as does much of the album, in the live arena. 'Wet Blanket' has more of a classic 80s feel. Bass-led and with airy, but serrated guitars and hint of keys, it is anything but damp and drab as its title suggests.
It is staggering to hear how many artists could arguably have been influenced by The Chills, such as The Wedding Present in the repetitive and driving 'Soft Bomb Part One'; Stereolab in the motorik, pulsing and short 'I'd Think I'd Thought I'd Have Nothing Else to Think About'; Kitchens of Distinction, especially in the vocal on the piano-led and theatrical 'Walk On The Beach', and Villagers in the heartfelt and natural 'True Romance'. Indeed, The Inspiral Carpets could have based their entire career on the organ-heavy 'Part Past Part Fiction'.
The one band which seems to permeate throughout and could be an influence is Cardiacs. 'Lost in Space' with its melancholic outlook, fuzz and noise in the guitars, and an organ used as a guide to the song, certainly feels like a kindred spirit. Likewise 'The Other', with its explosive opening, especially in the drum rolls and changes of pace.
Though The Chills were more of a cult act outside of their homeland, their New Zealand hits are well represented live here. 'Heavenly Pop Hit' is exactly what is says on the tin, hook-laden throughout and delivered with aplomb. 'Submarine Bells', the title track of their best known album, strips everything back with Martin's vocal simply accompanied by piano, receiving a great reception from the audience.
The frenetic and oddly-titled 'The Male Monster From the Id' is equally well received, though suffers in the recording process at the start of the song, and debut hit 'Rolling Moon' is a nice closer, but it's the excellent 'Pink Frost' that truly dominates and is a true classic. Covered by The House of Love and Fear of Men, among many others, it is a beautifully dark song, full of atmosphere, that's a treasure to hear.
Every live act seems to have at least one obligatory cover and The Chills don't fail here, with their interpretation of Cat Stevens' 'Matthew and Son' delivered with passion, without swaying too much from the original template. The big surprise, though, and the highlight is 'I Love My Leather Jacket'. A song dedicated to drummer Martyn Bull who sadly died very young, on record it is a great and poignant track, if somewhat fey. Here, it is a delivered with force and ferocity, with wall-to-wall noise and intensity. It's up there with the best of the Jesus & Mary Chain and The Fall.
Somewhat Beautiful is an excellent live album and a great starting point to begin exploring The Chills' back catalogue. Though its not likely that The Chills will tour much outside of their home country in the near future, the album should certainly entice many to go see them. Here's hoping!