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Detailed though critical review of Parallel Universe Print E-mail
Tuesday, 15 February 2005

A detailed though critical review of Parallel Universe from a Malaysian entertainment site. Originally published at http://www.star-ecentral.com/music/reviews/review.asp?file=archives/music/2005/2/ParallelUniverse&artist=The%20Church&title=Parallel%20Universe&sec=music

I'm surprised the reviewer didn't mention Reward on the second disc, which I think is a very strong song.

Parallel Universe

Artist: The Church

(Cooking Vinyl/InterGlobal)

Reviewer: CHUA CHERN TOONG

 
The Church are one of those bands that will never gain mass commercial acceptance, no matter how hard they try.

Shunned by the general record-buying public for their wilfully esoteric Goth-rock conceptions; the abstruse, bordering-on-overbearing soundscapes; and frontman Steve Kilbey's maddeningly nebulous wordplay; this Anglo-Australian collective would have perished long ago in the harsh ocean of music-industry vagaries, if not for their small but fiercely devoted cabal of fans (and an astute move to the sympathetic Cooking Vinyl record label after they were unceremoniously dropped by Arista in the mid-90s).

While The Church enjoyed a fleeting moment of commercial acclaim in the late 80s with the modest breakthrough of their 1988 album Starfish and attendant Top 40 single Under the Milky Way (still one of the most unlikely entries in the otherwise unforgiving American charts), Kilbey and company have since then retreated into their hermetic, cloistered world, hardly registering any visible signs on contemporary radio.

And it's really no big mystery: in this age of assembly-line pop tarts and manufactured nu-metal angst, who would have time for abstract compositions about reincarnated extraterrestrials in Ancient Persia, willowy, white-cloaked femme fatales called Anna Miranda, and feeling out of sync with the rest of the universe because you're trapped in the middle of an ?emerging random memory in flux? (a cryptic line from one of those highfalutin ?poems? that Kilbey likes to stick on his album sleeves)?

Unsurprisingly, the double-disc Parallel Universe won't win over any converts to The Church's opaque (some would say pretentious) musical system of belief. This two-part set comprises a first disc of ambient reworkings of all 10 songs from 2002's After Everything Now This (their best album in a decade), and a second allotment of six outtakes from the same recording sessions.

But does it really work? Well, on the one hand, regular Churchgoers would be in the throes of spiritual ecstasy at the exotic, neo-psychedelic reworkings (some of which are, admittedly, quite inventive) of the tracks from the parent album, which some hardcore fans have described as one of their best in years.

The leftover tunes are not that bad too: at worst, they make really good B-sides. But to other, more conventional ears which are not trained to comprehend that peculiar, anomalous Church aesthetic, it's all a tiresome load of metaphysical art-wankery rubbish.

The After Everything Now This tracks all get rather radical re-treatments on the first disc. For example, the lush, sprawling tonal textures of long, Pink Floydian epics like Night Friends, After Everything and Invisible are even more conspicuous in their new settings, and the remixing is handled quite competently too, albeit with the occasional flash of self-importance.

The synth patterns are drawn out to breaking point, the drum foundations are given stronger pronunciations, and vocals are re-recorded, multi-tracked and mixed with other echoey, disturbing voice samples, effectively creating the impression of a musical fever dream.

Elsewhere, rockier numbers like Radiance, Numbers and Chromium are all given new homes within pulsing, freeform dance backdrops, providing for a divergent perspective on these familiar songs.

The chilling Numbers, for example, retains its chiming guitar figures, but also picks up fresh elements like cut-up turntablism, Kraftwerkian bleeps and bloops, and a new, more aggressive drum track.

Radiance sounds like an entirely new track, with the languorous atmospherics of the original making way for the emergence of a mutated trip-hop beast that lurks in tandem with unrecognisable, jumbled-up radio-wave broadcasts.

What then of the second disc of outtakes, which, granted, is the more intriguing proposition of the two? Well, most of these are acceptable Church pieces, with some even sufficiently qualified for inclusion on the source album.

First Woman on the Moon is an expansive, 11-minute ambient workout that sounds like one of David Sylvian's more experimental soundscapes, bristling with shimmering synth motifs, droney bass undertows and a piano arpeggio that drifts in and out of the proceedings. Espionage is a more traditional Church ditty, a stately mid-tempo rocker that allows Peter Koppes to display some of his guitar-synth dexterity.

Meanwhile, There You Go is a sluggish cocktail-lounge mood piece, garnished with light blues-guitar trimmings, and Night Flower is a typical existential meditation saved from naffness by melodic, interlocking 12-string guitar accents. The concluding Twin Stars is a surprisingly straightforward love song, decorated with crystal-clear synth cadences floating atop a gently percussive rhythm bedrock.

Parallel Universe, as it stands, is like an obscure Dali mural: appreciated by a few, but generally deemed highly unsuitable and unprofitable to be put on public display.

Some good things can be said about The Church: they're never short of bizarre musical ideas (that work for the most part but falter when they lapse into self-indulgence), and their singular musical vision remains one of the most intriguing of the late 20th century and the new millennium.

Although they remain well and truly a cult act with no prospects of making it big, curious listeners who possess a healthy sense of adventurism might find this an interesting diversion.

Of course, Church diehards will throw themselves down in unconditional worship here. Meanwhile, lost souls in search of a more tangible form of rock salvation might want to look somewhere else.

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