Puff = Phatty: The Church's Sweet Dreams

A mellower Church -- more like a few pews in the midst of a poppy field ...

The Church were definitely a breath of fresh air when they arrived on

the heavily synth-dominated rock scene of the '80s, way back when

North America was having its first love affair with all things Aussie

(remember Men At Work? Midnight Oil? Paul Hogan? "Ripper"?). 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 phatty-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 bandmembers' drug enthusiasms, eventually took their toll on the

Church, however, and after 1992's ambient Priest = Aura, they faded

away from the mainstream rock scene in a cloud of pot and opium smoke,

losing key-component Koppes in the bargain. The good news here is that the

Church have now taken Koppes -- never on the best of personal terms with his

partner in six-string crime -- back into the fold, making Hologram of

Baal a sort of reunion album (drummer Richard Ploog, however, who left

after 1990's Gold Afternoon Fix, remains AWOL).

As such ventures 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


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

underpopulated annals of rock's twin lead-guitar greats. Brit transplant

Kilbey, meanwhile, never the most specific of lyricists, infuses the

album with his usual fuzzy dystopian/utopian thematics, lamenting a world

of useless toil run by "The Big Machine" and lauding one Maria, who escapes

its clutches in "Tranquility." The latter two songs and "Louisiana"

highlight the pastoral elegance of the Priest = Aura version of the

Church, a sound evoking wide-open spaces and hot, hazy afternoons spent

dreaming idly on the beach, traversing inner space.

The Church also 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,


listener can't help but wish they would crank the energy back up to

Heyday levels (see "Columbus" for reference) -- as they do here on "No

Certainty Attached" -- a little more often. 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.