CD Review of Untitled #23 by The Church
The Church: Untitled #23
Recommended if you like
Echo and the Bunnymen, Soft Boys, Cocteau Twins
Second Motion
The Church: Untitled #23

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

ussie Rock and other offerings from the Land Down Under have always occupied a particularly intriguing niche within the realms of Rock ‘n’ Roll. From the Easybeats through to AC/DC and Crowded House – with superfluous asides ranging from Skyhooks to Olivia Newton –John – Australia (and New Zealand as well, for that matter) have spawned some of the more interesting and intriguing variations on the modern musical template. The roll call includes the Church, explorers of distinctly psychedelic realms, whose history now spans nearly three decades but who sadly have yet to expand their following beyond the cult appeal established by their first – and only -- hit single, a mesmerizing slab of urgent exhilaration aptly titled "Under the Milky Way."

Since the early ‘80s, the Church have appeased their worshippers with a steady string of both group and solo albums, plowing through an ever-wavering line-up while carving out their cosmic niche. Their newest offering, Untitled 23, follows rapidly on the heels of two recent EPs (Pangea and Coffeehounds) and a pair of individual offerings by bassist Steve Kilbey and guitarist Marty Willson-Piper. (In addition to Kilbey and Willson-Piper, the Church also includes founder/guitarist Peter Koppes, now recently returned to the fold, and drummer Tim Powles, the group’s newest recruit.) Consequently, it varies little from the group M.O., or for that matter, either of the aforementioned solo turns.

Still, if the title seems somewhat ambiguous, suffice it to say it’s also appropriate, albeit it in a bizarre sort of way. Over the course of their career, the Church has procured a hazy cosmic sheen that tilts towards psychedelia, bit also embraces unusually amorphous attempts that defy both expectation and explanation. Hardly surprising, then, that one of their earliest albums was called #The Blurred Crusade#. It’s also no wonder that Untitled 23 finds the band falling back on a patented formula that involves a blend of sprawling melodies, ethereal arrangements and ruminating deliberations. The eerie, otherworldly mystique of "Pangea," "Deadman’s Hand" and "On Angel Street" sound as if they were beamed down from a distant galaxy, but fortunately, the pulsating tempos and darker designs maintain enough tension to ensure interest. Still, it’s the rare offering that find the foursome breaking out of the atmospherics and attempting to do more than mere drifting through yet another droning mélange. For example, the set’s best song, "Space Savior," starts with a somewhat understated delivery but promptly builds towards an insistent crescendo.

Suffice it to say those willing to commit to repeated listens will find this Church experience a more satisfying encounter. As far as all others are concerned, be forewarned – a cursory hearing makes potential appeal strictly a matter of faith.

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