I’ve been a fan of Australian-based rock band The Church for some 25 years now, yet somehow it never fails to amaze me how few people have ever really heard their music, or are even really aware of their existence. You’d think that a band of their longevity, with a career that already spans some 35 years, that more people would know of them and their music, but the halcyon days when their surprise hit single Under The Milky Way was receiving regular airplay have sadly long since passed. Today The Church continue to make exceptional records, but whilst their music is voraciously devoured by The Church faithful, they’ve been operating far outside the mainstream for some time now. Undeservedly so, in my view – I remain convinced that if more people were aware of the band, and actually got to hear some of their music, then they would sell many more copies of their albums. Consequently I was delighted to be able to review their latest, Further/Deeper, for Echoes and Dust a short time ago. Everything fans can do to raise awareness is valuable, and it doesn’t hurt that Further/Deeper is a truly outstanding record even by the band’s own reliable standard – it certainly made it easy for me to wax enthusiastic about it.
In the wake of the review, and my frantic ravings about Further/Deeper in various other places, real and virtual, I have had conversations with people who were blissfully unaware of the band’s existence. “What are they like, then?” They’re a rock band. “What sort of rock? Like metal?” No, more kind of… and that’s when I usually had to stop, because I couldn’t quite think how to end the sentence. The Church’s Steve Kilbey describes the band as “space rock”, which conjures images of bands like Hawkwind and Ozric Tentacles – and whilst there are elements of The Church’s sound that are also part of the make-up of those bands, The Church remain distinct, almost uncategorisable. You couldn’t describe a songs as punchy and visceral as When You Were Mine or as warmly ambient as Invisible as space rock, really. There are a great many different elements to The Church’s output, which is one of the things that endears them to me so much.
Then there’s the matter of where new listeners should start. “OK, what should I listen to first?” It’s tricky: the band have been around for over thirty years, and have been pretty prolific in that time. The smart money is probably on what has often been my stock answer: “start with Starfish, and see what you think.” However, that’s not always the best answer. I often have a good idea of what might appeal to friends and acquaintances, and it’s not always the ‘safe’ or obvious option: asking them to start with Starfish, however great I think it is, or it is perceived to be by the media, might put them off enjoying other records by the band I’m sure they’d enjoy. For every friend I have that would enjoy Starfish, I have one that would likely prefer the prog rock tendencies of Magician Among The Spirits, the fuzzy, grungy psychedelia of Forget Yourself, or the paisley-powered 80s New Wave of The Blurred Crusade. None of these records are representative of the band’s total output; in their way, they’re all outliers on a musical graph.
So I’ve been convinced for a while now that the only way to really get to grips with a discography as broad and varied as The Church’s is to create a compilation: something that takes in the whole of their catalogue in order to give an overview. But I’ve never had the nerve to try, largely because I would get a few tracks in and think, “Well, how can song x not be on here? Or song y?”, and quickly realise that I was creating a 12-disc boxed set that would intimidate all but the most determined listener.
However, when tickets for the band’s long-awaited return to UK shores went on sale last week, events conspired to make me think about it a bit more seriously. The Church’s UK dates are often concentrated in and around London, as the band find it financially hard to justify visits as it is and are keen to maximise ticket sales. This causes all kinds of problems, since getting to and from the capital, and existing within it for a space of time, can be prohibitively expensive. It’s The Church, though, so not going along wasn’t really an option – after all, it’s been nearly a decade since I last saw the band in action. So I laid plans to stay with a friend in London for a few days, based around my expedition to see The Church. I offered to get him a ticket – and almost inevitably, the response basically boiled down to “Sure, sounds good. What are they like?”
So I have now put together my compilation. Is it the “best” of the band’s output? No – it can’t hope to be, too much has been omitted. The Church are also one of those bands who excel at creating cohesive albums that are little journeys all of their own, so extracting tracks from them can be problematic. It is, however, fairly representative (at least I think so). So, for all those who are curious about this great band whose praises I am always singing, but who have been alarmed at the size of their back catalogue, in my next blog entry (since this is already getting long!) I shall post the track list of this three-disc extravaganza, and include my thoughts on what I’ve included and why.