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A look back at four Church albums Print E-mail
Saturday, 08 October 2005
A look back at four of The Church's albums: Starfish to Sometime Anywhere. By Bernard Zuel. Originally published at http://www.smh.com.au/news/cd--gig-reviews/the-church/2005/10/06/1128562925156.html

A four-disc set captures the polished pop and atmospherics of a band of contenders.

THE CHURCH
Starfish / Gold Afternoon Fix /Priest=Aura / Sometime Anywhere (EMI)

As the late 1980s eased into the '90s, the Church, a band almost a decade into its career, stood on the precipice, looked into the valley of major success and took two steps back.

At the beginning of the period covered in this four-album reissue, the Church were Australian stars, with strong guitar-driven, glam-meets-jangle songs that won them new pop fans while holding on to the old (paisley) underground support. By the end of it, they had settled into an atmosphere-driven style that had touches of prog rock and German-influenced electronic music. They would never darken the doorsteps of commercial radio again.

To some it may have looked perplexing, if not downright insane. After all, surely everyone - not least the band's hugely ambitious principal songwriter and singer, Steve Kilbey - wants to sell as many records as possible?

But the decision to withdraw from the fray might well have saved the band, which - with the exception of drummer Richard Ploog, who left after the first two of these four albums - is still recording, playing and writing together.

As Starfish shows, there was no "coulda been" about it: in 1988-89, the Church were contenders. They had an American hit, which has since become an Australian staple (Under the Milky Way), backed up by an album that was the most highly polished collection of pop songs of their career. They took the idea further with the underrated Gold Afternoon Fix, which - with songs such as Metropolis and You're Still Beautiful - could and maybe should have built on what Starfish had wrought. The problem was that the gloss was starting to get in the way of the songs and the effort being made to be the commercial entity was more obvious and less satisfying for them as much as us.

In the wide open spaces of Priest=Aura (with its appropriate cover of a desertscape and a lonely sentinel dog), Kilbey and guitarists Marty Willson-Piper and Peter Koppes began the shift away. This is a twilight album, of long shadows and a slight chill, and in many ways it is the most timeless of their career. Here the band expanded on ideas that had always been part of Church albums: gracefulness balanced by moodiness; drive channelled through ambience.

By 1994, with Sometime Anywhere, the pattern was set for the next decade. This is no longer twilight but a night where life throbs behind shuttered windows and faces blur at the edges. For the Church, mood and tone became more important and they found a (smaller but loyal) audience.

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