The Chills

Soft Bomb

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Going through yet another line-up revamp -- Phillipps is the only one remaining from the Submarine Bells performers -- the Chills approached what turned out to be the final album as simply the Chills (instead of "Martin Phillipps and...") in an unsettled state. Former bassist Terry Moore rejoined, dB's legend Peter Holsapple was drafted to provide additional guitars and keyboards, while Van Dyke Parks provided unnerving orchestration for one track, "Water Wolves," but Phillipps remained dead center as always. The result was okay, but not as distinctly Chills as before -- the near-perfect fusion and extension of earlier styles on Bells became more of a grab-bag, with a few awkward stabs at proto-adult album alternative airplay. Other tunes range from brawling (and overproduced?) rockers to the series of tracks called "Soft Bomb" scattered throughout the album like commercial breaks. More quirky numbers include the drunk music hall band arrangement on "There Is No Harm in Trying" and "Song for Randy Newman Etc.," an odd homage to the musician obliquely addressing artistic struggles over a nice piano melody. Opener "The Male Monster From the Id" shows Phillipps' smart way with words hasn't changed at all, but the music isn't the strongest he's done, signaling the album's sometimes-on sometimes-off nature. The chorus of "Background Affair," an airy, inspiring float with the music, or the clever opening of the first "Soft Bomb": "If you'd asked me at a concert standing by the Clean/ I'd have said I'm OK, and this is what I mean" are among the "on" highlights. Further high points include the lovely "Halo Fading," and the slightly bluesy, ominous late-night vibe of "Entertainer."

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