In the late ’70s, Australia exported a fair amount of bracingly unique Alternative Rock that rivaled anything produced by America or Great Britain. One of the Antipodean music scene’s leading lights in the subsequent ’80s was The Church, an aptly christened quartet that played with a hushed, psychedelic intensity and inspired an almost religious fervor among its rapidly converted fan base.
Anchored by singer/songwriter Steve Kilbey and guitarists Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper, The Church scored an Australian hit out of the gate with its 1981 debut album, Of Skins and Hearts, and its massive first single, “The Unguarded Moment.” Released in the U.S. on Capitol, Of Skins and Hearts generated little attention and The Church eventually lost their American distribution when it ignored requests for more deliberate radio hits.
The Church’s success continued in Australia and Europe into the mid-’80s. The band’s second American chance came in 1984 with a Warner Brothers contract and the repackaged release of two EPs as the full-length Remote Luxury. The band’s breakthrough, 1988’s Starfish, was its best selling album at home and sold well over a half million copies in the U.S. (where it was its debut for the Arista label) largely on the basis of its signature single, “Under the Milky Way,” an Alt Rock classic.
In the quarter century after the troubled sessions for 1990’s Gold Afternoon Fix and 1992’s classic-come-lately Priest=Aura, The Church’s path has been rocky and yet the band has endured. The quartet’s revolving drummer situation was resolved with the arrival of Tim Powles in 1995, although his first album, the disastrous Magician Among the Spirits, was nearly the band’s swan song.
Every remaining founding Church member has stepped away from the band and recorded solo work, including Kilbey’s The Idyllist in 2013. The most recent defection was Willson-Piper, who was on board for 2009’s Untitled #23, then moved to Sweden where he has remained pointedly incommunicado.
For last year’s patently excellent Further/Deeper, The Church recruited Powderfinger guitarist Ian Haug and churned out one of the best and most compelling albums in quite some time.
THE CHURCH plays at Woodward Theater Sunday, March 8. Find tickets/more info here.