Hard to believe that these Australian masters of the atmospheric
have been a going concern for more than a quarter of a century
now. Perhaps even more amazingly, they've had pretty much the
same core lineup for the whole time. Singer / bassist / lyricist
Steve Kilbey and dual guitarists (and occasional singer
/ lyricists) Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper
have been togther the whole time - apart from a brief mid-90s
departure by Koppes; they've been through somewhat more of a rotation
of drummers, but current pounder Tim Powles has been on
board since '94 and thus counts as a veteran too.
Powles' skills at producing and arranging have been a major contribution
to an incredible creative resurgence by The Church in recent
years. Starting with Hologram of Baal in 1998 and continuing
through 2002's After Everything Now This and 2004's Forget
Yourself to this latest marvel, the band has built on its
strengths and continued to add new textures so that each new album
is like a wild affair with a new flame and a cozy curl-up with
a long-term lover all at once.
The Church sound is instantly recognizable but hard to pin down.
The key components are probably Kilbey's cool, understated singing
and often oblique, but very compelling lyricss; nearly every song
contains a couplet or two that will stick in your head and conjure
up scenes you'd never imagined before. However, if you're in the
mood to just listen to the music without paying too much attention
to the words, the duelling guitars of Koppes and Willson-Piper
(right up there with Television's Tom Verlaine and
Richard Lloyd for inventiveness and tension), Kilbey's
melodic bass, plus multi-layered keyboard textures and half-buried
samples will give you something fresh to discover with every new
Uninvited... is a real culmination of the Church's recent
creative steak in that it recalls many of their best works stretching
right back to the mid-80's, while adding some new lyrical twists
and musical turns that make it unique, and a strong candidate
for their best work yet. That's a risky statement, Church fans'
favourite record being a hotly disputed topic with candidates
ranging from the driving, relatively poppy Heyday right
through to the dark and moody Priest=Aura, but I'll stand
by it nonetheless.
The albums starts out strong with the chugging, atmospheric "Block";
it's a steady, midtempo opener very much like Priest=Aura's
"Aura" or "Destination" from Starfish,
displaying all the Church strengths from the opening, mysterious,
uaccompanied vocals to the duelling guitars and pounding drums
at the finish.
"Unified Field" is much different, an uptempo and upbeat
song with a pretty, chiming guitar motif and harmonizing rhythm
guitar; it's very reminiscent of songs from 80s Church albums
like Seance or Remote Luxury, but given a much more
solid feel by Powles' drumming style; he beats solidly but with
the lightest of touches, whereas old drummer Richard Ploog
used to skitter.
It's nearly impossible to pick out highlights from the remaining
ten songs, ranging from the brooding, bass driven "Space
Needle" (taken to another level by wailing lead guitar with
a vaguely Eastern flavour - a Koppes trademark), the driving,
chiming, joyful "Easy" (probably my favourite song on
this album, bringing back the euphoric feel of "Metropolis"),
or "Untoward", which initially sounds like an outtake
from Priest=Aura with its swirling keyboard intro, but
turns out to be much more upbeat than the songs from that previous
As well as contributing stellar guitars throughout, Willson-Piper
and Koppes each contrbute a song of their own. Marty's "She'll
Come Back for You Tomorrow" is a fine song but doesn't quite
reach the level of his past Church classics like "Spark"
or "See Your Lights", or the best of his solo work.
Peter's "Never Before" is wonderful, though, with guitars
that rise and fall like crashing waves and prominent keyboards.
With another great song, "Appalatia", on the previous
album, he's really improving with age.
The Church never blow all their best songs at the beginning of
a record, and the last two songs on Uninvited... are no
exception. "Day" is a serene, swirling piece that envelops
you like a blanket, similar to the best songs from Hologram
of Baal, while the appropriately titled "Song to Go"
takes us out with a wheezing accordion introduction that gives
way to massive, multitracked guitars that sound like distant thunder,
before settling into a steady stroll embellished by violins and
what sounds like the ticking of a clock counting down to the end
of the album. Kilbey's lyrics here initially sound throwaway,
but contain this verse that neatly sums up the whole of the Church's
"I sang about the distance
I sang about the time
I introduced some chaos
Then tried to make it mine."
As if this fine, fine album weren't enough, the band is also
hitting the US for some live dates through July and August, with
support from the great Rob Dickinson (previously of The
Catherine Wheel, truly one of the very best bands of the 90s,
and touring his excellent solo album Fresh Wine for the Horses).
That's a real dream date - watch out on Hybrid for a live review
2. Unified Field
3. Space Needle
6. She'll Come Back for You Tomorrow
7. Pure Chance
8. Never Before
9. Real Toggle Action
12. Song to Go
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