Day Thirty-Eight: The Church – Untitled #23
8th Feb 2013
Day Thirty-Eight: The Church – Untitled #23
8th Feb 2013
“Absolutely mesmerizing. I had no idea The Church still had a record like this in them. Untitled #23 is hands down their best since Heyday, and it gives that one a run for the money. I was so floored I began composing this review before the disc even ended.
One of the things that makes these songs so good is their textured sound. The majestic pop of “Already Yesterday” or “Under The Milky Way” was a thing of beauty, no question. But that style dated very quickly, which is one of the reasons they had such difficulty following up their early success.
The atmospheres The Church toyed with back in the day have now fully matured. Untitled #23 is a dark dream of a record, hypnotic almost. The opening track “Cobalt Blue” draws the listener in immediately. With Marty Willson-Piper’s chiming guitars framing Steve Kilbey’s haunting refrain “Let it go, let it go” the results are riveting.
“Pangaea” and “Space Saviour” continue the mood, but it is with “On Angel Street” that this record becomes triumphant. It is a film noir journey through Kilbey’s subconscious, as he ruminates on a relationship’s end. This is the most personal song I have heard in ages, an achingly beautiful piece of music.
“Anchorage” is another peak, the interplay between the band is just incredibly tight as the song builds to it’s climax. “Operetta” closes things out as they began, with swirling guitars framing stream of conscious lyrics, as only The Church can do.
Given the band’s spotty record since Starfish, I thought they might have front loaded the best tracks, and I kept waiting for the clunkers to appear. There are none on Untitled #23. To record what is quite possibly their best album ever after nearly 30 years together is an extraordinary achievement.
It is also one hell of a record. I wish I knew the significance of the title, but like everything else here, it really does not matter. All that matters is the music, and in that regard The Church have hit a home run.” – by Greg Barbrick April 27, 2009
After putting out a pair of EPs in 1984 that would be combined into the LP Remote Luxuryin the States, the Church released its fourth full-length album, which would be its last for its then-patron EMI. Produced by Englishman Peter Walsh, chosen by the band for his recent work with Simple Minds and Scott Walker, Heyday gives the quartet a brighter, more lush sound than ever before, with strings and horns enhancing a few tracks. The band responds to the shiny presentation with a strong set of tunes that show a tight creative unity, as this is the first LP on which the songs were composed as a band.
Heyday is more dominated by up-tempo pop tunes than anything the Church has done outside of its first album. “Night of Light” and the glorious single “Tantalized” make excellent use of horn bursts and string arrangements, two things one would think the Church would never need. “Myrrh” and “Columbus” keep the caffeinated jangle pop vibe going, both tunes a swirl of ringing 6- and 12-string guitars and Steve Kilbey‘s laconic mystery. “Disenchanted” and “Tristesse” bring the energy level down for a more midtempo introspection, without stinting on hooks or drive. The single “Already Yesterday” puts strong hooks into a moody arrangement that likely killed its chances on the charts. “Youth Worshipper” rides a descending melody armed with keyboards, strings, saxophone and a lyric decrying plastic surgery, while “Roman” burns down its arrangement in an album-ending flurry of interlocking six-strings. In the midst of all the crash and clang of guitar rock, “Happy Hunting Ground” stands out, a gentle, misty instrumental that’s like a pause for breath.
This reissue is particularly generous with its B-sides, all of which are worthy additions to the catalog. “As You Will” and “The View,” written and sung by guitarists Peter Koppes andMarty Willson-Piper respectively, are both guitar pop gems, tight and tuneful. “Trance Ending” lives up to its name, a drifting wash of psychedelic mystery that’s a better ending to the record than “Roman,” its original stopping point. Practically overflowing with memorable hooks and ear-caressing textures, Heyday is one of the Church’s most well-crafted and accessible albums.
“the church‘s third album, 1983’s Seance continued the band’s rapid evolution into the psychedelic powerhouse it would become. But an odd mix also makes it a sonic anomaly in the band’s catalog. While the band self-produced the recordings, then-engineer Nick Launay was brought in to mix, which he did without any input from the group. Launay would go on to produce several landmark recordings by the likes of Midnight Oil and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, but in 1983 he was as enamored with high-tech mixing and production techniques as everyone else. The result was twofold: a smoky, almost Gothic atmosphere that ends up serving the band’s increasingly abstract vision quite well and a horribly dated, gated reverb/triggered drum sound that sticks out like a preacher at a porn convention. Love it or hate it, the sonics of Seance make it an album that’s one of the band’s most distinctive.
Fortunately, the songs themselves are strong enough hold up under an outsider’s treatment. “It’s No Reason,” “Now I Wonder Why” and the lyrically eccentric “Electric Lash” solidify the Church’s penchant for jangling folk rock. “Dropping Names” and “Disappear?” fulfill the group’s quota of psychedelic anthems, while “It Doesn’t Change” is another of its building epics. The acoustic guitar-driven “Fly” opens the album with a breath of fresh air before the smoke sets in, while “One Day” makes brilliant repetitive use of a ringing 12-string riff even as it fights a bizarre, box-walloping drum track. The LP’s only group composition (the usual touring/recording grind forced the band to rely on Steve Kilbey‘s overachieving songsmithery), “Travel By Thought” attempts to be a space rock epic, but the uneasy marriage of Kilbey’s spoken word rambling with the band’s majestic psychedelia prevents it from truly taking off.
Two more B-sides appear as bonus cuts here: the pleasant but fairly non-descript folk rocker “Someone Special” and the gorgeous, chiming pop tune “Autumn Soon.” Due to a mix obscured by clouds and the band’s continued drive towards mood over meaning,Seance is a polarizing album in the church’s lineage. But the band’s evolution as writers and musicians gives the record enough artistic weight to give it quality even for those who think the production is a disaster.” – by Michael Toland
“Originally released in 1982, The Blurred Crusade, the second album from the church, takes the guitar-heavy new wave sound of its debut Of Skins and Heart and reshapes it, beginning the process of evolution into what would become the church‘s sonic signature. The first major difference is in the singing; Steve Kilbey has modulated his thin baritone into the relaxed croon that is his signature sound, and the lack of strain improves his vocals immensely. The second is that the band reins in its youthful energy, not to diminish its power, but to focus it, resulting in more evenly-paced, steady performances. New drummer Richard Ploog is less of a basher than original skinsman Nick Ward, more versatile and nimble. Guitarists Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper (who uses a 12-string as his main axe at this point) mesh even better as a guitar team, sounding as if they’re adapting the tactics of Television tag team Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd to theByrds‘ elegiac folk rock. Fresh from working with the Rolling Stones, big time producerBob Clearmountain gives the band a clear, crisp sound without running roughshod over its creative instincts. (That would happen on the next record at the hands of a more respected producer.)
The one-two pop punch of “Almost With You” and “When You Were Mine” open the record with the most explicit recollection of the fizzy power pop of the first LP, but trades the youthful exuberance for a keener sense of craft. “Just For You,” the brief “Don’t Look Back” and “To Be In Your Eyes” add more acoustic guitars for lush, irresistible midtempo folk rock that’s beguiling in its casual melodic flair. “Field of Mars” features Willson-Piper’s lead vocal debut on a spacey ballad that sounds like it really is being beamed in from the titular planet. “A Fire Burns” boasts an unusually muscular guitar crash, almost as if the band was subverting the Aussie hard rock tradition by filtering it through its own sensibility.
Most significant, though, are “An Interlude” and “You Took,” the two group-composed efforts. Up to this point Kilbey wrote nearly all the material solo, though the individual musicians certainly were allowed to imprint their own personalities. But “An Interlude,” a jangled journey into the inner/outer space dichotomy in which the band would soon become comfortable, and “You Took,” a perfectly composed and arranged epic anthem, sound truly like the products of a group mind – you can really hear the church’s sonic aesthetic taking shape on these tunes. Indeed, “You Took” stands as a high-water mark in the band’s catalog to this day.
The new edition adds a pair of B-sides. The instrumental “The Golden Dawn” is entertaining but fairly inconsequential, at times sounding like the band has been listening to a little too much Alan Parsons Project. But “Life Speeds Up” is fantastic, a long track that begins as a punky pop tune and evolves into a dynamic anthem with soaring lead guitar and an almost casual ability to fill a stadium with sound. Both tunes enhance an already strong record, one that holds up as one of the very best in the church’s long, fruitful catalog.” – by Michael Toland
“While the group never truly gained the popular acclaim many of us thought it was due, the church has still managed to carve out a consistently interesting career for itself, moving from underground sensation to (briefly) popular mainstream act to legendary veterans, all while never resting on its own laurels. In celebration of 30 years of existence, the band has begun a reissue campaign for its major label work, most of which is inexplicably out of print. A reassessment of the Australian quartet’s early LPS is especially useful considering how well it displays the band finding its way toward its signature sound, a swirl of psychedelic rock that contains familiar elements but that sounds like no one but the church. The reissues also include bonus tracks, plus historical liner notes from guitarist Marty Willson-Piper.
Fans who entered the Church following the international success of its fifth album Starfishand its career-defining hit single “Under the Milky Way” might be surprised by the forthright sound of the band’s debut album Of Skins and Heart. The gauzy psychedelia for which the group would become known appears only in hints and glimmers here. Instead the band – bassist/singer/songwriter Steve Kilbey, guitarists Peter Koppes and Piper and drummerNick Ward – boasts a rocking sound that’s more in line with the rising tide of new wave. It sounds like a young band with talent to burn eager to get its ideas down on vinyl as quickly and energetically as possible.
The snarling postpunker “Fighter Pilot…Korean War,” the straightforward ballad “Don’t Open the Door to Strangers” and the bombastic “Memories in Future Tense” sound very different from the band with which most people would become familiar – the guitars are much more muscular and less pretty. Kilbey had not yet found his style as a vocalist, pushing his natural croon into an urgent yelp influenced by his 70s glam rock heroes. It mostly fits but he occasionally sounds like he’s straining beyond his comfort zone. Sprightly pop rockers like “She Never Said,” “For a Moment We’re Strangers,” “Chrome Injury” (which is marred by a dated electronic percussion thwack) and the Australian hit “The Unguarded Moment” show some of the group’s hallmarks – the uncommon chemistry between Koppes and Willson-Piper’s axes, Kilbey’s enigmatic lyrics – but also have a stripped down, propulsive power folks rarely associate with the band now. The leisurely epic “Is This Where You Live” and the jangling “Bel-Air” give hints of what was to come, but overall Of Skins and Heart sounds like the work of a different band than the church we all know – though quite a good band, to be sure.
This edition comes with a pair of B-sides as bonus tracks, and, not uncommonly for bands of this era, they’re both as good as anything else on the main record. “Busdriver” achieves a jagged, melodic drive very familiar to fans of today’s neo-new wave crop, while “In a Heartbeat” mixes an almost strident wash of chords, soaring lead guitar and a particularly catchy melody into a near-classic that the band should consider reviving. Indeed, it would be interesting to hear how the mature, experienced Church would handle these songs today. Even if little here sounds like the church we all know and adore, Of Skins and Heart is still a strong debut by a band full of ideas that would be more fully developed as its career progressed.” – Michael Toland
The Church reissuing first 8 albums, touring Australia to mark 30th anniversary
To mark its 30th anniversary, Australia’s The Church this fall will embark on a major reissue campaign, releasing digitally remastered editions of its first eight studio albums — 1981’s Of Skins and Heart through 1994’s Sometime Anywhere — along with four early EPs and a new 2CD singles compilation.
Those releases come as the band this week announced it will take its “An Intimate Space” 30th anniversary acoustic tour — which hit the U.S. last April and March — across Australia in November and December; the 11-date tour opens Nov. 25 on the Sunshine Coast and wraps up Dec. 19 in Melbourne (Editors note: updated 19/11/10).
As for the forthcoming reissues on Second Motion Records, the first pair — Of Skin and Hearts and 1982’s The Blurred Crusade — are due out Oct. 19. Each are single-disc releases packaged in “vinyl-style soft-pack” sleeves with 12-page booklets filled with photos, lyrics and new liner notes by guitarist Marty Willson-Piper.
Those first two reissues each have two bonus tracks tacked on — significantly less extra material than was included on the 2002 double-disc reissues. While the product description for Of Skin and Hearts on Amazon.com describes that reissue’s extra songs as “never-before released tracks,” that’s not true: “In a Heartbeat” was the B-side to debut single “She Never Said,” and appears on the compilation Hindsight 1980-1987, while “Busdriver” was the B-side on the “This Unguarded Moment” 7-inch.
As for the Blurred Crusade reissue, that album features as bonus tracks “Life Speeds Up,” the B-side to “Almost With You,” and “The Golden Dawn,” the B-side to “When You Were Mine”; both tracks also appear on the Hindsight compilation.
Neither the Church nor Second Motion have announced a release schedule for the reissues, but Amazon.com shows a reissue of 1983’s Seance set for release Nov. 16. The other albums due for reissue, according to Second Motion, are Heyday (1986), Starfish (1988), Gold Afternoon Fix (1990), Priest=Aura (1992) and Sometime Anywhere.
Also due out at some point: reissues of the Tear It All Away (1981) Singsongs (1982), Remote Luxury (1983) and Persia (1984) EPs, plus there will be a “definitive singles collection” that spans “the band’s entire 30-year career from their first single to their latest, “Operetta,” off 2009’s critically acclaimed album Untitled #23.” No tracklist has yet been announced.”
Editors Note: The Best of the Radio Songs tracklist as follows :
1. the unguarded moment
2. tear it all away
3. almost with you
4. electric lash
5. constant in opal
7. under the milky way
8. reptile (single version)
10.ripple (single version)
13.louisiana (single version)
15.don’t you fall
16.easy (sliced mix)
Fricke’s Picks: High Holy Daze
Aug 8, 2009
“Please check the contents of your head,” singer-bassist Steve Kilbey of the Church announced in his slow-rolling-wave baritone during the Australian band’s New York gig on July 8th. “Items may have shifted during flight.” Only for the better. For nearly 30 years, the Church’s heavenly-treble raptures – driven by charter guitarists Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper – have been one of rock’s most dependable and still-evolving trips. The set list that night captured the constancy and mutation, going deep into the gothic-Byrds peal of 1982’s The Blurred Crusade amid the stately-reverb suspense of “Deadman’s Hand” and the creeping-pop poise of “Pangaea,” both from the new untitled #23 (Second Motion). A hypnotic enigma of measured pace and mounting-ring dynamics, the album is, in fact, the group’s 23rd – a genuine milestone in longevity and psychedelic invention.”
My Favourite Albums of 2009 – Evan Rytlewski
“Old dogs can teach themselves new tricks. Thirty years into their career—and 20 years after their brief commercial peak—The Church have recorded one of their most striking albums yet, a genuine psychedelic masterpiece. Untitled #23 retains all The Church’s hallmarks—the warm, effusive melodies; the complex guitar interplay; the surprising tangents—but it strikes a tone distinct from anything else in their discography. The band resists playing to their usual strengths for shimmering guitar-pop or grandiose, surround-sound rock, and instead attempts something less immediate. Untitled #23 is resigned and melancholic, its guitars restrained and its hooks hidden behind a shadowy, psychedelic haze. It’s a Rorschach inkblot of an album, and each listen lends itself to new discoveries and interpretations.” – Dec 11, 2009