PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Durutti Column: Chronicle XL

Seemingly on the verge of death not long ago, Vini Reilly re-emerges with a timely, often gorgeous reminder of why he is among the greatest guitarists of his generation.

Durutti Column

Chronicle XL

Label: Kooky
US Release Date: 2014-07-22
UK Release Date: 2014-07-07

The context of Chronicle XL is crucial because in many ways it is more important than the music.

Were it not so true and affecting, Vini Reilly's story would be easy to dismiss as one in a long line of "tortured artist" clichés. Recording under the Durutti Column banner since his 1978 debut, Reilly has remained a fervent individualist in an industry where those are increasingly hard to find. His brilliant, singular, hugely influential guitar style made him a local legend in his native Manchester, where he was the first official signing to the seminal Factory Records label.

He was feted by the likes of Brian Eno and covered by Martin Gore from Depeche Mode. But to get to that point, Reilly had to endure a brutal adolescence full of violence and wild living. The damage came in the form a fragile psyche that in turn led to substance abuse and recurring, deep-seated depression. Reilly's closest brush with mainstream recognition came with his outstanding work on Morrissey's 1988 debut, Viva Hate.

But Reilly's mercurial nature helped ensure his stint as part of Morrissey's creative team was short lived. When Factory Records folded in the early 1990s, Reilly was left destitute. He eventually found his feet and maintained a recording schedule that allowed him to eke out a decent living from his loyal fanbase.

Then came the cruelest tragedy, followed by a touching renewal.

In 2010, Reilly suffered a pair of strokes, which impaired his ability to play guitar. In 2012, a third stroke rendered him unable to play at all. He was tortured by a head full of musical ideas that he could not express, and became suicidal. In 2013, Reilly's nephew used Facebook to make a plea for his uncle, who had not received the proper state disability aid and was once again on the verge of losing what little he had left. And that is where Vini Reilly's life took on a new air of hope.

Almost pathologically dismissive of his own talent, Reilly now accepted that he had been an important part of others' lives, and those people wanted to thank him. Within hours of his nephew's outreach, Reilly's mounting bills were covered. He dedicated himself to relearning guitar, despite the pessimism of his doctors. And he finished what was to become Chronicle XL.

The original Chronicle album was released in 2011, in conjunction with a retrospective show in Manchester. After Reilly's most recent ordeal, his long-serving manager/drummer Bruce Mitchell encouraged him to overhaul Chronicle and add new material as well. The resulting deluxe, two-disc edition was intended for Record Store Day 2014, but was delayed until July. It is now available as a physical package with additional material or as a standard digital download.

Chronicle XL is some of Reilly's most personal, intimate work, and not just due to its creator's struggles of late. The recording of the initial Chronicle was immediately preceded by the dissolution of Reilly's relationship with his longstanding girlfriend and collaborator. Reilly was devastated, and Chronicle became an emotionally raw breakup album. This makes up the first half of Chronicle XL. The songs have been re-titled and in some cases tweaked slightly. The second half features some new tracks along with further reworkings of previous material.

Reilly's unmistakable guitar tone and style have meant the entirety of his output retains a certain commonality. Over the years he had added and subtracted instruments, orchestrations, and electronic elements, but the overall feeling has remained much the same. Some fans have felt a sense of diminishing returns creep into Durutti Column's more recent material. Chronicle XL does not entirely escape that criticism. Ultimately, though, it’s best moments are among the high points of Reilly's career.

Reilly's sound is difficult to describe. Wound in delay and occasional chorus effects, it is simultaneously piercing and calming, soft yet forceful. On tracks like the gorgeous high point "Mello", it expresses what seems like excruciating pain but in a way that does not sound painful. It is simple, lush, and, here more than usual, elegiac. Sad, yes, but hardly depressing.

On songs such as "Poppy & Pancho", a cascading piano rhythm takes precedence over guitar. "Mercy in the Cathedral" is simply breathtaking, the explosions wafting around the background just one example of Reilly's penchant for well-placed samples and electronics.

Reilly does indeed get a bit of help from his friends as well. Mitchell lends a pulsing, slapdash feel to "Embattled Heart and Rattling" and a tribal intensity to "Juan Montero & the Drum". Reilly's whispy vocals have always been a polarizing matter. He does sing on several tracks, but he also turns over much of the second half to Mancunian neo-folksinger Caoilfhionn Rose Birley, whose gently atmospheric delivery meshes especially well on the trembling "Follow".

For some, Reilly's lovelorn lyrics will be confessional to a fault. "Poppy … you were my fairy", he says of his lost love. But, in the set's saddest moment, he also admits, "I guess you just weren't ready to watch my body growing old".

The more choppy, jagged, less-melodic aspects of Durutti Column's sound are not served particularly well on Chronicle XL, and the final third does indeed come across as more an eclectic mish-mash than a unified album, but such quibbles are largely beside the point.

Chronicle XL is a perfect impetus to re-discover, or maybe simply discover, the magic Reilly is capable of producing. Once you are drawn in, a vast, rich backcatalog awaits.

Reilly, who at 61 has made several public appearances in 2014, including one to promote awareness of depression and suicide, seems to be getting another lease on life. It seems he just isn't ready to watch himself growing old, either.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.