In one of life’s strangest musical mysteries one of the best guitar bands ever, and quite possibly the template for a lot of what we now know as new psych, The Church never really connected with a UK audience. In Australia they are hailed as national heroes, while in the US they could at least boast a hit single and a film soundtrack or two. Yet in the country of singer and main songsmith Steve Kilbey’s birth they are little more than a footnote – 80s alt rockers whose brief brush with fame in the early 90s was quickly extinguished by the awful racket coming out of Seattle.
So the chance of hearing any of Further Deeper, the band’s 24th, count ‘em, album on the BBC, or reading a review in one of our august music journals – you know the ones on their very last legs – is minimal. Which is, as it has been 23 times before, a tragedy of epic musical proportions. For once again, and in spite of losing key member guitarist Marty Willson Piper, the band have delivered an astonishing album.
The band’s last release, Untitled #23 garnered a five star review from Rolling Stone’s David Fricke for its Pink Floyd meets Abbey Road era vibe. And if anything Further Deeper is a greater achievement that should have the legendary reviewer spluttering superlatives and conjuring up an imaginary sixth star. It really is almost beyond comprehension that a band that has been around so long and created so much great music along the way can still be this ambitious, experimental and downright brilliant. Maybe Willson Piper’s departure gave Kilbey a point to prove, and boy has he made a statement with this.
Sure Further Deeper is missing a bit of the jingle jangle that was MWP’s trademark, but the truth is that after a couple of spins you really don’t miss him too much. This is clearly still The Church, but they just sound a little different. If anything the introduction of new guitarist Ian Haug from Powderfinger (!?) gives the band’s soundscapes a denser, edgier vibe.
And yet Further Deeper isn’t an especially easy listen. Many of the tracks run in at six minutes plus and the grand finale almost reaches nine. Then there are the constant time signature changes, unexpected musical flourishes, and strange vocal interludes. Yet somehow amazingly, it all hangs brilliantly together. By play number three I was totally hooked.
Highlights? The lead track Pride Before A fall is the most immediate moment here with its sweet verse, droney chorus and Beatley fade. Laurel Canyon, the nearest thing to the band’s mid 80s trademark jangle runs its close and is one for fans of the band’s fourth album Remote Luxury. And then there’s Old Coast Road which could have hailed from the band’s much under rated Uninvited Like The Clouds album – and maybe it is just the title but also reminds Australia’s other great 80s classicists The Triffids.
Ultimately though it is the ambitious stuff that impresses the most. Love Philtre, is stunning, a nod to the grandeur of the band’s mid 80s masterpiece Heyday with its slow building piano-driven melody, which then bizarrely seems to stop and morph into another piece of music only for the band to return to the main tune for the dramatic finale. Then there’s Globe Spinning, which had the band racked the BPM up a little more would be the best bit of dance psych that The Chemical Brothers never recorded. And then the multi layered psych of Lightning White, with its sublime guitar solo, the opener Vanishing Man with its totally unexpected chorus and the bonkers, baggy-esque fade out of Toy Head.
And to top it all is the album’s finale Miami, which after a trademark Starfish style layered guitar intro, blossoms into an epic tune that is part Hotel Womb and part You Took from The Blurred Crusade. It is breath taking in its depth, complexity and ambition.
I bet Miami sounds amazing live, though the chances of us Brits ever getting to hear it this way seem pretty remote (go on, go on). Still massive kudos to Kilbey and the band. This is a total triumph, a real treat for the faithful and possibly the ticket for a new generation of psych heads into one of the most inspired and under rated back catalogues in the history of pop.