Hypnotic Australian guitar rock band The Church enjoyed a successful '80s career as a cult band specializing in atmospheric early alternative music. Through five albums and a handful of EPs released during the decade, the group managed to carve a career during its initial years that would have been more than enough to cement a permanent place among rock royalty. Over the years, though, The Church has continued to record and perform with regularity and quality results. Here's a chronological look at the band's finest songs from its first decade.
Fans of The Church's more popular latter-day work may be surprised to hear just how much this lead-off track from the band's debut, Of Skins and Heart, genuinely rocks. After all, the group's best-known songs tend to feature a hypnotic, mellow sound. However, in this case frontman Steve Kilbey's lead vocals resemble those of The Cure's Robert Smith more than they ever will again, while at the same time combining perfectly with the driving guitars of Marty Willson-Piper and Peter Koppes. Though not a single from this first LP, this song registers as a definite standout.
Perhaps the most famous song from The Church other than 1988's "Under the Milky Way," this track stands tall as an early masterpiece for a highly accomplished, pioneering alternative rock band. The verse melody showcases some of Kilbey's finest singing, and the song's chorus and guitar work continue to advance The Church as a college rock band that truly hit the ground running. Somehow this great single didn't break through as a single in the U.S. or U.K., but in retrospect that's clearly an oversight.
A perfect blend of chiming guitars ushers in this wonderful track from 1982's The Blurred Crusade, and yet another sublime verse melody helps set the stage for more vocal alchemy from Kilbey. As the band's primary songwriter during the band's early years, this unsung rock frontman certainly engineered the evolving direction of The Church. Nevertheless, a song like this also clearly demonstrates the integrity of the quartet as a full-fledged creative unit. Again, this follow-up LP's deep album tracks are as good if not better than the singles, which is a strong indicator of greatness.
At times The Church certainly shared more than a few similarities with Goth rock artists like Joy Division or The Cure, and 1983's Seance may be the best example of that leaning. This track combines a relatively quick tempo with somewhat dirge-like repetitive guitar parts and, of course, the thick gloom residing in Kilbey's hypnotic vocals. Still, the band's music never fits neatly into any one genre of alternative music, an achievement that allows this tune and others off this record to maximize the off-kilter appeal of The Church.
Despite more than two years between studio releases, The Church continued to inform the evolution of modern rock, a fact that becomes ever clearer upon even one listen to the best songs from 1986's Heyday. This tune actually came out as a single at the end of 1985 and, despite making minimal impact even in Australia, rather perfectly embodies the increasingly angular, echo-laden guitar sound of the group's developing style.
1988's brilliant LP Starfish contains several songs that generate tremendously thick levels of sumptuous atmosphere, including standouts like the group's biggest hit, "Under the Milky Way," and the staggering track "Lost." However, this lead-off track packs a serious punch with its mournful yet powerful guitar lines and, especially, its devastating quiet moments. "It's not a religion, it's just a technique/It's just a way of making you speak," sings Kilbey during one of these reduced-volume breaks. But soon after, the band's twin guitars explode in a unique, welcome way.
A Willson-Piper composition, this tune gallops along at a nice tempo and adds a slightly aggressive edge that Kilbey interprets perfectly in his vocals. A track like "Reptile" gets a higher level of attention as one of the four singles from Starfish, but the record's depth can truly be explored through "Spark." As mellow as the band had become at this point, The Church was still a quartet capable of punchy rock arrangements, and the guitars of Koppes and Willson-Piper remain a major draw here yet again.
This riff-dominated track showcases the rhythmic genius of The Church, as the bass guitar from Kilbey and drumming of Richard Ploog help drive the unique chord progression. By 1988, alternative rock had already cemented itself as a legitimate, well-formed genre, and quite frankly this band's '80s consistency had helped create an accepting climate for such music. The variety presented on Starfish - exemplified by the distinct mood created in this song - proves that The Church was one of the most important modern rock bands of all.