The Church
Priest=Aura
Arista
**
by Ira Robbins

Wandering in from pop's Australian fringes at the dawn of the last decade, the Church spent the Eighties on the winding road of refined psychedelia. Led by dour bassist-singer Steve Kilbey, the quartet juggled stylistic affinities for Syd Barrett, David Bowie, The Byrds and The Beatles through an unchartable progression of albums before emerging with the slick Starfish, as a corner in the easy-listening art-pop stakes. While Kilbey and the band's two guitarists, Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper, siphoned their stranger impulses into solo projects, the Church hunkered down to make a pair of hit records (the other being Gold Afternoon Fix) with American producer Waddy Wachtel, who dispelled the group's dreamy haze with pristine efficiency. Priest=Aura loosens the studio reins considerably. Rife with ringing feedback, shimmering strings and ricocheting U2-like guitar pings, the album is rich in texture. Set against this elegant soundscape, not-so-quiet storms add a glint of savagery, bringing moments of drama and beauty to stately songs.

But background noise can't dissipate the album's arid atmosphere or it's occasional resemblance to Seventies progressive rock. In tone and temperament, Priest=Aura has all the warmth of an undertaker.

Singing in his enervated voice, Kilbey is droll enough to drop intriguing phrases like "Everything is wrong...all my songs are coming true" and pretentious enough to intone, "I've got a nickname for you...I call you 'weakness.' " Though sporadically clever, his lyrics flit around ideas rather than embody them. "Aura" begins as a pungent depiction of the universal soldier but lurches into paradox; "The Disillusionist", a languid attack descended from Bowie's "Jean Genie," never defines a clear target; "Ripple" quotes Greek mythology and Al Jolson to no discernible purpose. And where exactly is the poetry in a line like "I feel anxiety in my neck"? Renouncing commercial inhibitions has brought new life into the Church's music. What the group needs now is some brimstone in it's pulpit.


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