While it's been more than two decades since Australia's The Church were anywhere near the mainstream in the United States, the band made, and continues to make, terrific music both before and after "Under The Milky Way" became their only US Top 40 hit in 1988.
Featuring the fantastic and intricate guitar interplay of Marty Willson-Piper and Peter Koppes and the enigmatic lyrics and coolly droll lead vocals of chief songwriter and bassist Steve Kilbey, The Church has crafted an instantly recognizable sound. While they've steered an essentially even keel musically, the choppy waters of changing styles and eras have seen the group's music referred to as "new wave," "psychedelic," "gothic," "alternative" and "art rock" among many other appellations over the last three decades.
Celebrating 30 years together as a band is no small achievement and The Church were deservedly inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association Hall of Fame in October. In a garrulously good natured and rambling acceptance speech, Kilbey relates anecdotes of the band's adventures, including a flight to Tasmania in a WWII cargo plane with equipment sliding around and the plane's door coming open midflight. He then goes on to add, possibly tipsy, asides to his bandmate's remarks. See it on The Church's website.
With perfect comedic timing, Willson-Piper steps to the microphone last and says, "I wonder if anybody thinks that Steve has managed to demystify us? (pause, much laughter) We've worked so hard to be aloof and enigmatic... (pause, much laughter) all ruined in 15 minutes after 30 years!" It's an absolutely priceless moment.
Marking The Church's pearl anniversary, Second Motion Records has released Deep in the Shallows: The Classic Singles Collection and reissues of the group's first four albums (not counting Remote Luxury, which was cobbled together from two EPs for US release). All are available now.
While these early albums have been reissued previously, including in editions with more bonus tracks than the singles' B-sides offered here, this batch of reissues is the gold standard as each disc features 12-page booklets with extensive and detailed liner notes by the aforementioned Willson-Piper. With the guitarist's insightful wit and self-deprecating humor on full display as he discusses each album and the band's career at that time, it's a fanboy's dream come true.
An ideal place to start for the newly- or soon-to-be converted, this chronological anthology boasts 34 tracks spanning The Church's entire 30-year career. It was originally released overseas in 2007, but makes its US debut here with an updated track listing. From the magnificent breakthrough "The Unguarded Moment" through 1980s college rock staples "Tantalized" and "Under The Milky Way," mid-period gems like "Metropolis" and "Feel" and the recent "Pangaea" and "Unified Field," all the highlights are here. The band's initial, more straightforward pop songs that hooked early fans gradually giving way to the more ambitious and complex, yet still melodic, later tunes that invited the audience to grow with the group. Over the course of two-and-a-half hours of music, there's not a single dip in quality -- virtually guaranteeing neophytes will want to delve further into the catalog...
originally released 1981 Easily one of the best debuts of the 1980s, this album is a clear statement of purpose and lays the foundation for all that follows. Willson-Piper and Koppes' entrancing guitar magic is in full flower from the get-go while Kilbey veers between simple lyrical statements on "Don't Open the Door to Strangers" and "She Never Said" to his soon-to-be-signature surrealistic and moody musings on "Memories in Future Tense" and the sublime "The Unguarded Moment."
originally released 1982 Building on the strengths of the stellar debut, this record features more varied guitar sounds including acoustic and Spanish guitars and gorgeous 12-string playing that brought on the inevitable Byrds comparisons. Listen to the intro of "Almost With You" and you'll know exactly where Tempe songwriting legend, the late, great Doug Hopkins, drew his inspiration for the jangly arpeggios that would take the Gin Blossoms into the American charts a decade later. The addition of new drummer Richard Ploog also brings a notable smoothness to the songs.
originally released 1983 While the songwriting here is as strong as the first two albums, Seance is cruelly hamstrung by its processed drum sound -- especially irritating on the otherwise magnificent "Electric Lash" -- that date-stamps it to the big '80s. The introduction of keyboard washes and accents further gives the record an icy cool veneer, captured perfectly by its cover image, that represented a new, if inadvertent (see the liner notes), direction for the band. One that found them leaving the musical mainstream to mine the richness of the underground.
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originally released 1986 Sumptuously lush in sound, Heyday stands in sharp contrast to Seance as The Church continues to evolve, never content to linger long in one place on their musical journey. Travel imagery runs through the entire record with breakneck, headlong sonic rushes ("Columbus" and the dizzying "Tantalized") balanced by stately-paced songs such as "Already Yesterday" and the cinematic instrumental "Happy Hunting Ground." With the entire band jointly composing most of the music, Heyday marks the true beginning of the collaborative efforts that will see the group through their three-decades-plus-and-counting career.
More reissues will follow in 2011, including two-disc sets for Starfish, Gold Afternoon Fix, Priest = Aura and Sometime Anywhere, along with a limited edition EP box set including reissues of the original EPs Remote Luxury, Sing-Songs, Tear It All Away and Persia.