As a young university student, I returned home for a visit to the family farm. Trying on my mother’s glasses I could suddenly see flowers in the distant paddocks, all in sharp focus. They had of course been growing there all along – they were just going unappreciated to my failing eyes. It was a moment that was as surprising as it was beautiful. And it was a similar experience I have had listening to ‘Brave Words (Expanded and Remastered)’ by The Chills. I knew the songs already, as ‘Brave Words’ was one of my favourite albums back in those same early university days. But like my mediocre eyesight, the sound on the original ‘Brave Words’ release was also decidedly below average. So, finally, similar to the addition of glasses to my face, the album has now been remedied by remastering. And it has opened up a whole new world of sounds that were previously hidden from my senses. Hearing these songs in this enhanced form has been akin to obtaining some magical aural aids for ears that I never fully appreciated weren’t working properly.
‘Brave Words’ – the band's only studio album without ‘S’ and ‘B’ initials – was The Chills’ debut album, released in 1987. I didn’t discover it until a few years later, after leaving my rural isolation, and following its chart-topping follow-up ‘Submarine Bells’. But what a discovery it was. Perfect pop songs, with angst-ridden lyrics that perfectly resonated for the age and stage I was at. Take ‘Look for the Good in Others’, for example: “I used to be in love, but that is long since through; we used to be one living thing, but now we’re back to two”. Oh, my feels! And ‘Wet Blanket’ – you can take any lyrics from that song... it’s all enough to just liquidise any tormented teenager’s heart.
It is not just the songs though, but the newfound lushness of the sound here that makes this album worth revisiting, in its new form. The guitars are more jangly, and the keyboards are… well… there. You might have been mistaken for thinking that keyboard player of the time, Andrew Todd, had simply been left off the original release altogether. Not so here. Hearing these enhanced keyboard lines just adds so much to the overall sound. If you are familiar with the songs on the original release, nowhere is this more evident that on ‘Ghosts’ and ‘Push’.
Highlights on the album for me include the spine-tingling ‘Night of Chill Blue’, which the band commonly open their gigs with; the further heart-tugging ‘Sixteen Heart-Throbs’ - “Jayne with a why, why, why….?”; ‘Push’, with its heightened keyboards lines giving the song a greater sense of uneasiness, which was previously A.W.O.L.; ‘Rain’; and anguished ‘Wet Blanket’ – more ‘full’ than the original recording, while also much superior in quality than the remixed version that appeared on the 1994 ‘Heavenly Pop Hits’ compilation.
Beyond the songs ‘Remastered’ from the previous album, there are also a few bonus tracks – the ‘Expanded’. One is ‘The Oncoming Day’, which appeared in a different form on ‘Submarine Bells’. This version is a bit less angry and intense than what appeared there, especially with the inclusion of an amusing carnival-esque keyboard line, which proves a little distracting when familiar with that ‘Submarine Bells’ version. Also included are the non-album single ‘House with 100 Rooms’, which appeared on the ‘Brave Words’ CD with ‘Party in My Heart’ and ‘Living in a Jungle’, and ‘Wet Blanket’ B-side ‘I Think I’d Thought I'd Nothing Else to Think About’. Closing it all out is an instrumental version of ‘Wet Blanket’.
Overall, this album has been a revelation. It has hit all the right nostalgic buttons, while providing a quality of sound that makes it seem like an altogether new release. Listen particularly to the original twelve album tracks. It’s brilliant.