Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: The Church – Untitled #23

When it comes to music, the inevitable “who’s the greatest” question is an exercise in futility. Beatles or Stones, who cares? They’re both good. So are the Church. An equally strong case could be made that the legendary Australian art-rockers – now in their 29th year – are the greatest rock band of all time. Combining the jangly Rickenbacker guitar clang of the Byrds, the epic grandeur of Pink Floyd, the surreal weirdness of early 70s Bowie and a savagely visionary lyricism akin to Elvis Costello, the Church have released almost three dozen albums (the title of this one was chosen at random) and virtually all of them are worth owning. That’s a staggering achievement, and it surpasses both the Beatles’ and the Stones’ output. Think about that for a moment.

Their latest album, Untitled #23 is typical: enigmatic yet often crushingly straightforward, anthemic yet terse, swirling and psychedelic yet extremely hard-hitting in places. It’s also frontman Steve Kilbey‘s best lyrical effort since the band’s brilliant 1998 “comeback” album Hologram of Baal. Musically, the guitars come at you in waves, in layers, pulsing, roaring, clanging, tinkling, whooshing, each holding down its own peculiar spot in a dizzyingly vast sonic mosaic. It is often extraordinarily beautiful, often disquieting, even disorienting: headphones were made for albums like this. It’s probably the most dreampop-inflected cd the band has ever made, yet at the same time the tersest thing they’ve done this decade. Where does it rank in the pantheon of Church records? With the last three, certainly (the most recent being the towering, artsy Uninvited Like the Clouds, from 2007); otherwise, somewhere a notch below the power and majesty of 1991’s Priest = Aura or 1986’s Heyday, but both of those albums are acknowledged classics, simply two of the best ever.

Cobalt Blue, the opening track, is a masterpiece of guitar orchestration, echoey and otherworldly. The second track, a big rocker built on a catchy descending progression, is an obvious holdover from the days of the Bush regime: “Night comes down with all its implications, something pressing against your face,” Kilbey intones (he’s never sung better than he does here), “with the desert’s burning Bush.” Track three, Pangaea has a playfully vicious sarcasm and a soaring bassline that might belong to either Kilbey or guitarist Marty Willson-Piper – both excel on a four-string.

Happenstance is bitter and brooding:

When the hopeless nights of love have gone
And the spirits are still in the trees
And they’re running back to Albion
I should take some chance
Given Happenstance

On Angel Street paints a bleak tableau against a minimalistic, Stereolab-inflected backdrop, building to a towering, anthemic crescendo. With its catchy post-Velvets melody and surreal lyrics, Sunken Sun could pass for a standout track by the Oxygen Ponies. The most powerful song on the album, Anchorage, has an unleashed fury, Kilbey’s icy imagery possibly a mea culpa for a dissolute life (he’s been disarmingly frank about his own) or the caustic dismissal of someone else’s. The two concluding cuts share a warmly atmospheric vibe. What else is there to say: another masterpiece by maybe the greatest band of all time, and a solid contender for best album of 2009.

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August 16, 2009 - Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

4 Comments »

  1. Anchorage is a masterpiece inside a masterpiece. The Church are the greatest band in the world, and have been for many years. No one sound sliek them, writes like them, and has mastered their art like them in the last 30 years.
    over and out,
    Dannis in Toronto

    Comment by Dannis K. | August 20, 2009 | Reply

  2. agreed!

    Comment by delarue | August 20, 2009 | Reply

  3. Amen. That is the truth

    Comment by matt | August 23, 2009 | Reply

  4. Amen … yes they are!!

    Comment by matt | August 23, 2009 | Reply


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