Somehow, despite my age and interest in music (in particular, music with an ethereal bent), I missed out on The Church. Having not heard any songs by this Australian band, I was turned onto them by a friend who was singing the praises of their latest effort, a full-length CD, Uninvited, Like the Clouds. I’d heard a lot ABOUT The Church: their legendary (and at times ambient-influenced) guitar work, their stream-of-consciousness lyrics, their solid songwriting, so I figured I’d check out Uninvited, Like the Clouds (breaking a cardinal rule in exploring enduring artists’ work by listening to the most recent release, rather than the releases that most fans and critics deem essential for understanding the band). Uninvited, Like the Clouds, however, holds up on its own as a very very solid release from a confident and seasoned band, and the CD contains all of the elements that I’d heard about previously. In fact, The Church combines the various aspects of their music (the great guitar work, distantly atmospheric mood, intriguing lyrics, and solid songwriting) to create a cohesive whole that is more than the sum of these parts. By doing so, the band has not only won at least one new fan (namely this reviewer), but they have also shown that well after two decades of playing music, The Church remains a relevant talent that is creating compelling art.
Uninvited, Like the Clouds opens with the powerful and dark rock song “Block”. Lead singer Steve Kilbey’s slither around an almost bluesy guitar and bass lines. The song subtly builds in tension as Kilbey’s passionate vocals convey desperation while the various guitar lines intertwine in a balance of ethereal sounds and rock riffs. “Block” eventually erupts into a tense full-on rock jam, complete with various guitar solos, crashing drums, layered vocals, and subtle electronic accents. Overall, the song is an amazing introduction to the band and (though “Block” would prove to be the exception in style on Uninvited, Like the Clouds) showcases a band with a great ability to create and execute poignant musical moments. In contrast to the dark leanings of “Block”, “Unified Field” is a radio-friendly pop-rock song that features delicious liquid guitar lines and an instantly appealing melody. On the aptly-titled “Space Needle”, The Church veers off into space-rock territory, where the band spends a lot of their time on Uninvited, Like the Clouds. The song finds the band balancing spacey guitar interludes and dissonant melodies in the verses in the midst of more conventional rock choruses. The song succeeds at both being dreamy, yet vividly present with its upfront vocals and strong melody. “Overview” is another instantly accessible song, with solid guitar lines (in particular the masterful solo by Marty Willson-Piper), tasteful piano accents, and a longing yet appealing main vocal melody.
All throughout Uninvited, Like the Clouds, The Church grounds their ethereal sounds with excellent songcraft, and constructs a musical experience that feels meaty and substantial (as opposed to so many other space-rock groups that are content to allow their delay pedal do all of the work). For instance, a song like “Never Before”, the band plays a foreboding onslaught of distant keyboards and guitars that convey a scene of an impending storm rumbling its way towards the listener…while at the same time writing a great song that would work just as effectively in an acoustic setting as it does in its more fleshed out appearance on this CD. Even on the most airy and ghostly tracks, like the final two tracks, the gorgeous “Day 5” and the largely experimental “Song to Go…”, the band is coating appealing songs (especially in the case of “Day 5”) with layers of atmosphere and wistful sounds. It’s this balance of sound and songwriting that makes Uninvited, Like the Clouds so interesting, and it’s the skills that The Church uses on every song throughout the disc that make it so excellent. Whether one focuses on Kilbey’s thoughtful delivery, or Willson-Piper’s still-legendary guitar heroics, or the tasteful drum, bass, and other arrangements that emerge throughout the songs, it’s apparent to the listener that Uninvited, Like the Clouds was crafted expertly with care, subtlety, and ultimately, with an attention to capturing truly beautiful moments in music.
It seems then that Uninvited, Like the Clouds is not a bad introduction to The Church after all, because in its own way it presents The Church as a mature, wildly-talented, and even fresh-sounding band that isn’t tied to the whims of the changing music trends and fads. Lately, I’ve been impressed by more mature artists (like Kate Bush, Robin Guthrie, and Freeheat, which contains members of The Jesus and Mary Chain) who’ve recently resurfaced with recordings that have proven their ability to continue to offer high quality music to listeners. Add The Church to that list, and join with me in the following months as I seek out this fascinating band’s extensive back-catalog…