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KEEPING IT COOL WITH CULT HEROES

The last time New Zealander Martin Phillipps brought The Chills to Ireland, it was 1990. Twenty-four years later, Phillipps wonders what went down at the after-party. "Was anybody there at the Baggot Inn?" he asks us. One or two punters cheer. "Cool, so it did happen," he chuckles.

Yes, it did. But it wasn't to be for a band that, though blessed with a melody-making leader with a knack for jangly, indie-pop hooks, never did break on through to the other side.

Who are The Chills? Well, we might just have to use the dreaded C-word. Had things worked out as planned, the Dunedin five-piece could have gone stratospheric. What went wrong? Too many line-up changes, for a start. But these things happen. At best, a greying Phillipps (now in his 50s and the group's only constant member) will have to settle with cult status.

There are no hard feelings here. Phillipps is pretty down-to-earth, a likeable chap who has put some dark times behind him (a period of drug abuse followed the band's demise in the mid-90s).

After years spent teasing a fifth record, it seems the new-look Chills are finally prepared to get on with things. They finished recording the album last month, and Phillipps promises there will be another tour next year. Onwards and upwards, so.

CLASSIC

Most fans have turned out for the early stuff. And yes, those classic, Flying Nun label recordings have aged quite well. Weirder than New Order and not quite as angry as the Pixies, The Chills serve up a no-nonsense run-through of alt-rock workouts and punk-adorned pop hits (the Cure-like The Male Monster from the Id sounds glorious too). Actually, their best song is called Heavenly Pop Hit - and it is exactly that.

Multi-instrumentalist Erica Scally divides her time between guitar, violin and keys, always wearing a smile (unlike the other keyboardist Oli Wilson, who looks like he just woke up). Bassist James Dickson keeps to his own world (like all great four-string players), and drummer Todd Knudson think he's in a stadium. Nice Hendrix T-shirt, mate.

Phillipps' youthful vocal holds everything together. They're a strong unit, and the new songs sound promising. Granted, there's not nearly enough charisma on display, and you have to wonder if the band's lack of presence had something to do with their stalling. But if there's another group with a better tune about their favourite item of clothing (I Love My Leather Jacket), I've yet to hear it. Let's see how that new record works out.

HHHHI


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