Saturday, November 09, 2013

Song of the day

"Molten Gold", by The Chills.

While we were all looking the other way, Martin Phillipps uploaded a new Chills song onto iTunes. Some of us had, reluctantly, stopped holding our breath for the long- and often-promised "new Chills material" to appear. The Chills have long been a big part of my life, and I have frequently, silently (as well as, I seem to recall, on these pages) wished Phillipps well (even if only for the very selfish reason that I wanted him to keep making music). But nobody can wait forever.

Which makes the appearance of this new song not so much a surprise as the trigger for a sensation like that of having one of your long-dead parents suddenly walk around the corner and stare you in the face. I think the expression may be "cognitive dissonance": this can't be happening, and yet here it is.

Its mere existence, then, is a cause for celebration, and has fanned a long-dormant flame. It would be tempting to hail the song itself, of course, as a masterpiece, a stunning return to form, a song worth waiting nine years for. Whereas in fact (well, in my opinion) what it is is just another Chills song. But before you switch off, think about what that means: in a world where there are too few songs by one of his generation's most gifted songwriters, the addition of even one new song is no small thing. Martin Phillipps, whatever else has been going on in his life, has still got his own particular "it".

"Molten Gold" sounds tentative: there are no real risks being taken (the electric fiddle carrying the main melody line is new -- although it is really doing the same work as the expensive keyboards that were all over the group's records during their major-label phase), he is not pushing any envelopes or making any Major Statements. If you wanted to place it within the Chills' songbook, it is more "Look For The Good In Others" than "Great Escape". It doesn't precisely sound like a demo but there is something underworked, something homespun about it. (It might also be suggestive of someone who has come to terms with the idea that a song that sounds like it came out of Dunedin is a song worth doing; but that might just be me drifting into the field of amateur psychoanalysis.)

And here is where it gets speculative, taking us to a place that all Chills fans will recognise: that place called "What Next?". If "Molten Gold" is the sound of Martin Phillipps figuring out if he can still do this, well, Martin, the resounding answer must be "Yes You Can". If Phillipps, who appears to be surrounded now by a solid group of sympathetic musicians, can draw some momentum from this one song, who knows, we might be on the verge of an unexpected, thoroughly well deserved, and (for me, but I'm sure not only for me) very exciting second act.

On the other hand, if it does turn out to be a one-off, and we are held in suspense for another however many years, well, Martin, whenever that might be, I will still be here waiting for you. And in the meantime we have this song to listen to. So, y'know, uh, thanks.