News of an album’s reissue and remaster can sometimes be met with skepticism. New hands on revered material can sometimes feel like hubris, or worse, heresy in messing with the memory of a fan favorite. This year saw a divisive reception when that treatment fell to The Replacements’ Tim, with an attempt to scrub up the production of the original into something more in line with the crisp pop sounds of the day. Similarly, that same revisionist spirit has been applied to The Chills’ debut, Brave Words. Like Tim, the record has has a reputation as being poorly mixed. Now, some fans of Tim find that all part of the record’s charm, the last of a roughshod legacy before the band would gloss it up for good. I’ve never really heard anyone say such a thing about Brave Words. While Mayo Thompson’s production was a stark contrast to the band’s early singles, the final product wound up burying Martin Phillips in the mix and sanding away some of the band’s dynamics. It’s often lamented that the record’s sound let down fans hoping for a vibrant follow-up to the The Chills’ sterling early run.
With Phillips himself behind the remixing here, there’s less to wonder about whether a new hand in the dough is warranted. Hindsight has given him a hand in reshaping the album into something that falls more in line with what would come on Submarine Bells and Soft Bomb. From the first moments that Brave Words (Expanded and Remastered) hits the speakers, its like hearing the record for the first time. With the kind of care given to restoring renaissance works, the color and shading of the album is pulled out of the grime, flinging the album into a wide panorama from its tintype origins. Songs that have long been favorites, like “Wet Blanket,” “Rain,” and “16-Heart Throbs” feel like they reach the full potential that was always lurking in the tapes, shaking off the shrouding of the original Flying Nun edition. With the remaster, this album finally takes its place among the band’s most revered works.
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