spinART / Cooking Vinyl
hen I first encountered The Church way, way back at the hinge point of the 80s and 90s, they were teetering on a pivot of their own. Their 1988 album Starfish had given them a bona fide hit with ‘Under the Milky Way’ (hola, Donnie Darko fans!), and it looked as though they were likely to follow REM through the gilded arch that led from indiedom to real, bank-account-in-the-red stardom. If Peter Buck could get away with copping all of his guitar lines from The Byrds, well, why shouldn’t The Church get their piece of the pie, especially as their chiming cadences sounded like natural progressions of Roger McGuinn’s sound (as opposed to le Buck’s guilty finger-in-the-pie lifts)?
Sadly, it wasn’t to be: the bands’ next album Gold Afternoon Fix merely stabilized their position; their next Priest = Aura mired them further; and, for the rest of the 90s, these wizards from Auz morphed from ‘band most likely to’ to ‘band most likely to release crappy sci-fi concept albums’. Jesus wept; well, I did, at least. It just wasn’t fair; here was a band with a twin-guitar dynamic reminiscent of Television, a lyricist (and bass player!) who sounded like he was channeling Phillip K. Dick, a band, a unit! who deserved the attentions of a mass market who had clasped Mad Michael Stipe to their bosoms. Was their timing that flawed? Was our respect run so dry? Sadly, yes: The Church began to slip into the solipsistic half-life of bizarre indie labels and fan club conventions, forever situated on the event horizon of fame, out of reach of the populist dollar.
So it’s a real kick in the kidneys when you listen to ‘Forget Yourself’, the bands’ 17th album: where the hell did this return to form come from? The Church’s last few albums suggested a band whom, having missed their train to fame, were happy to plough the same dreamy furrow without shame. Ah, non: no dice, Slim – this album plays like a young, angry, hungry band for whom the carrot of fame is dangling just out of reach: these fuckers are jostling for it, punching and kicking everyone who dares to get in their way. It’s a little scary and downright invigorating to listen to: shit, these boys are in their late 40s, and already I’m taking bets on them bloodying Oasis’ noses in a rehearsal room showdown (I’m a pacifist, but Oasis never fail to wake the pugilist in me).
The album starts with the wonderful 1-2-XU of ‘Sealine’ and ‘Song In Space’; and, really, if the album consisted of just these two songs I’d have been content. ‘Sealine’ is a twisty little beast of a track, starting with drifting clouds of feedback before finding it’s groove with a guitar line and out-of-sync lyric that sound reassuringly like the bands’ early 90s heyday. So far, so expected. But when the song grinds to its chorus and its sneering, rock-grinding power washes over you, Steve Kilbey’s lip-curled lyric abandoning the listener at the water’s edge; well, rarely has the statement ‘you’re beautiful’ sounded more ominous and threatening than it does here. The attack really doesn’t let up; the guitars at the beginning of ‘Song in Space’ sound like they can flay skin – someone’s been spiking these boys’ chamomile tea, methinks. Sounding like The Verve circa ‘A Storm In Heaven’ (yes, pre-‘Bittersweet Wankery’), I can only guess that the band answered all of those emails for Viagra that plague my inbox on a daily basis.
Not all of it works, though. The vocodered vocals of ‘Reversal’ (the albums’ penultimate track) sound forced, competing with the kinetic headrush of the song without really giving it the futuristic sheen that I guess the band intended. Also, all of the album’s belligerence can sometimes leave the listener wishing for something as light and touching as ‘Laughing’ from Gold Afternoon Fix, just as a respite from the thick, threatening soup that dominates much of the album. But I digress; this is a fantastic strike back for lovers of guitar rock from a bunch of lads whom I’d thought had been worn down by fame’s fickle assault. Instead, they’ve made a vibrant album that at times sounds like it’s a young band’s first shot at the cherry; I can offer no greater praise.
Reviewed by: Dave McGonigle
Reviewed on: 2004-03-22