The Church were definitely a breath of fresh air when they arrived on the heavily synth-dominated rock scene of the ’80s…
With 1985’s excellent Heyday, especially, they made their mark, with the neo-Byrdsy pop-rock interplay of guitarists Marty Willson-Piper and Peter Koppes and the equal parts Bowie- and joint-influenced vocals and lyrics of Steven Kilbey revitalizing the notion of guitar rock and meshing nicely with the neo-psychedelic “Paisley Underground” scene then happening in the States.
This formula finally peaked with 1988’s commercial breakthrough, Starfish, which yielded the band’s biggest “hits,” “Under The Milky Way” and “Destination.” Subsequent commercial pressures to produce a follow-up, along with various band members’ drug enthusiasms, eventually took their toll on the Church. As such ventures like reunion albums go, then, Hologram of Baal (and what was Kilbey smoking when he came up with that title?) isn’t half-bad.
While Koppes and Willson-Piper may indeed hate each other’s guts, they still work together beautifully, weaving chiming, at times ethereal, at other times doomy guitar lines together like Aussie dream-weavers, proving they belong up there with Thin Lizzy’s Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham in the under populated annals of rock’s twin lead-guitar greats. The Church try to hearken back to their “Milky Way” golden commercial era here on the mid-paced numbers “Anaesthesia” and “Ricochet,” which lead off the album, with Kilbey lyrically detailing his confessed intensive personal drug-research of the last few years, and while these tunes don’t quite hit the bull’s eye the band is obviously striving for, they do become lodged in the subconscious with repeated listenings.
Overall, as fine as the ambient soundscapes the Church conjure are, this listener can’t help but wish they would crank the energy back up a little more often, as they do here on “No Certainty Attached.” Perhaps the answer to such a wish is to be found in “Anaesthesia”: “So many things need fixing everywhere/ Anaesthesia tells me to slow down a little more/ Why not sleep a little more?” Kilbey sings drowsily. Hey, the man just wants to relax, and who are we to argue? Sweet dreams, Mr. Kilbey. Oh if you’re lucky enough to find a copy with the Bastard Universe bonus CD, you will get 40 minutes of incredible studio session jamming, best part of Hologram!