CHURCHGOER by Brian Q. Newcomb
On June 2, Mississippi Nights hosts a Point party featuring special acoustic performances by Steve Kilbey and Marty Willson-Piper of the Church and by Michael Been, formerly with the Call. Although tickets for the performance are available by invitation only through the mod-rock station, these two fine new albums from the artists are available to all interested parties.
Sometime Anywhere The Church (Arista)
For over a decade, Australian rockers the Church have built an exceptional catalog of albums filled with dramatic songcraft around the effects-drenched guitar of Marty Willson-Piper and the wry vocals of Steve Kilbey. "Under the Milky Way" provided the band's one major hit, but recent releases---Starfish, Gold Afternoon Fix, and Priest=Aura---have been a treasure trove of moody soundscapes and ironic lyricism of the first order. Although originally a quartet, since the departure of Peter Koppes after Priest=Aura, the band is down now to merely Kilbey and Willson-Piper, but is no worse for the losses.
Fans who've been around for the ride with the Church no doubt tune in like fans of Pink Floyd, because the musical and cerebral panorama is often so much wider than in conventional pop and rock music. However, unlike (Pink) Floyd's The Division Bell, the Church not only offers a great view from the heights and depths, but you have the added sense of actually progressing to a destination. Although the flash of Willson-Piper's guitars continues to delight, there's a movement and substance in the songs' musical and lyrical ideas that gives ruggedness to the more eloquent, trancsendant passages.
Bold, dark fun flows through the grooves of "Lost My Touch" and "Angelica." Tender balladry doesn't lack for bite in "My Little Problem" and the somewhat profane Christmas carol "Lullaby." The instrumental "Eastern" continues the Church's exploration of world music, and "Two Places at Once," "Day of the Dead" and "Fly Home" offer up the essential and expected goods--otherworldly yet rock solid. The Church may never have another "hit," but then again the gods of commercial success may smile down on worthy efforts like "Loveblind" and "The Maven." But that's far from the point.
The music, often as experimental and challenging as it is consistent and traditional, is creative, engaging and potent. When this bell tolls, it's not merely the sound of old rock guys hitting the cash register: It delivers not only impressive sounds but also compositional substance and lyrics filled with irony, intelligence and charm. After this journey for the ears, you'll know it was worth the trip.