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The Church
Uninvited, Like The Clouds
Thirsty Ear

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 listening.

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 brooding masterpiece.

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 work:

"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 in August.

-Gareth Bowles

Track list:
1. Block
2. Unified Field
3. Space Needle
4. Overview
5. Easy
6. She'll Come Back for You Tomorrow
7. Pure Chance
8. Never Before
9. Real Toggle Action
10. Untoward
11. Day
12. Song to Go

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