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Magician Among the Spirits and Some review Print E-mail
Tuesday, 18 January 2005

Fluffhouse reviews Magician, originally published at http://www.fluffhouse.org.uk/musicreviews/album.php?albumid=578

For a while this was the lost Church album, recorded after being dropped by their label, but re-issued several years later with a few extra tracks. It's usually held up by cool critics to epitomise the Church's dodgy period of the mid nineties. Along with "Sometime Anywhere" it bears the brunt of the criticism for its prog-rock leanings, and the absence of second guitarist Peter Koppes. But the two albums are quite different, to me "Sometime Anywhere" has the richer quality of material, and "Magician.." is its paler sibling.

While Koppes does make a few appearances here, the bareness of some of the arrangements shows his absence. There's a greater than average amount of filler, and Willson-Piper's guitar sneers and twangs often seem to resonate in curiously empty surroundings. Rumours of a lack of inspiration are confirmed by the opening "Welcome", which revives the cliche of the List-of-Names song. I'll assume that Kilbey's choice of celebrities to roll-call actually does have some significance. The single "Comedown" has the familiar Church jangle, although they're capable of a lot stronger tunes.

The prog image of this period of the band comes from the extended and instrumental material, which is of varying quality. The 14-minute stone-out title track successfully evokes a late-night landscape, but seems only a semi-improvised experiment. The exotic colour in "Romany Caravan" is pretty but gratuitous-sounding. Their love of Pink Floyd is evident, not least on "Grandiose". The oohs of its female backing chorus and those searing guitar solos would be at home in the David Gilmour-led incarnation of Floyd, big and puffed-up but little content. Finally the piano chords of "After Image" are attractive, but too close for comfort to Rick Wright's playing on "Great Gig in the Sky".

But the Church couldn't make thirteen tracks without revealing some spark here and there. On the brooding "Could Be Anyone", Steve Kilbey's distorted prose is delivered over a focused, pulsing bassline and beat. Along with the Marty-voiced "Won't Let You Sleep" and "Further Adventures of the Time Being", this takes their songwriting confidence a couple of steps forward amidst the filler.

6 out of 10

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