Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

The Chills: Submarine Bells [Slash/Warner Bros., 1990]
I might never have known without the printed lyrics, but there's no evidence here that Martin Phillipps is in love with death. He just sees too much of it. So don't dismiss the printed Greenpeace propaganda as gratuitous--for the Chills it's an antidote. What distinguishes them from so many politically well-meaning popsters is that neither cheery music nor dour message is one-dimensional or pro forma--they generate plenty of punk gall and a surprising complement of bliss. Maybe "Heavenly Pop Hit" is about waking up as an angel, but I say Phillipps believes there can be a heaven before he's dead, and if his vision of transcendence is a bit nature-bound for my tastes, it's the thought that counts. Anyway, his true theme song is "Singing in My Sleep," about all the other theme songs--"a word from the wise for the mindless," "a stinging reproach against violence," etc.--that he can't remember in the morning. A