Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Stains On a Decade: An ’02 Amendment

Well, I goofed, as I often do, and inadvertently left off an album from the 2002 list that was key for me in more ways than one – the Church’s After Everything Now This. Honestly, it’s not that I forgot about it, only that I thought it came out in 2003, so…there goes a bit more of my memory. However, I do remember picking this one up at Grimey’s at their original location not long after getting married, out with the Mrs. for a Saturday spending spree, and there it was sitting there all subdued and forlorn as if to say “Well, there you are at last.” I’d had no idea it even existed (I’m really very terrible at keeping up with what’s new in music, even amongst my favorite artists), and ironically this was a pre-release copy, so I was inadvertently ahead of the game. Go me.

I admit I was skeptical of this album, as I had been of all albums from the Church since 1990’s Gold Afternoon Fix. Why? Well, as I believe I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this blog, after that album they began the second phase of their career, pealing away the jangle-tastic immediacy that had endeared them to me for so many years, and beginning the long, drawn out process of mining the earthy goodness of music that can’t be properly delved in a 3.5 minute standard pop tune. And while I had faithfully picked up each album as it came out, I listened to them out of obligation instead of interest and always went back to Of Skins and Heart or Séance or Starfish for my proper Church fix. Even 1998’s Hologram of Baal – a “return to form” as well as the official return of wayward guitarist Peter Koppes – did little to endear me to the Church in the “modern era” so to speak.

So, here I was with a promotional copy of After Everything Now This…and I thought it a befitting title considering the time, devotion and coin I’d shelled out on these Aussie wunderkinds, and with much to be personally doubtful of, I gave it a spin. Wow (that is to say W-O-W). I was literally blown away. It’s not that after a few albums of texture-noodling these guys finally got it right (and yes, efforts like Sometime Anywhere are a bit transitional), it’s that I finally caught up, ignored my pop prejudices and embraced this album and the new era of the Church with open arms. Ironically, this isn’t even one of their better albums of the second and most rewarding leg of their career, but it’s still a stellar example of what a bunch of gifted musicians can do once they never mind the mainstream and just make music that they enjoy and believe in.

The single and lead track, Numbers, is one of those undeniably instantaneous songs, an immediate toe-tapper under the table, restrained yet driven, as S-Kilbey weaves images in his ever-cryptic way, open to interpretation, or perhaps obvious to those with the right mindset. The title track is a sprawling epic (among so many), reminding one of why rock n roll can and should be stretched to its fullest potential, with strength in understatement and vibrancy in subtlety. Song for the Asking strips away the Kilbey mystery and bares all, delving in the loss and disillusion found in heartbreak. The shimmering Chromium is one of Marty Willson-Piper’s greatest non-solo tunes since Starfish’s Spark (and equally as engaging in its stripped down counterpart on the acoustic album, El Momento Descuidado). Radiance evokes a landscape, much like the album cover, that is simply otherworldly. Night Friends delivers everything a title of that nature implies, complete with a descending guitar lick that takes you straight down to the dregs of the matter. And last but not least, Invisible carries it all home (or wherever you care to go) in a faux chant murmur that could go on forever and you’d never notice - and wouldn’t mind if you did.

So prolific was this time period that they released a double album of alternate versions, mixes and various outtakes not long after, expanding the vision of After Everything Now This to the point of almost literal endlessness…though I will say that you truly have to have time on your hands to get through it all.

Ultimately what After Everything Now This did for me was open my mind to what the Church had been doing throughout most of the 90s (and continues to do to even greater success to this day), particularly albums like Sometime Anywhere and Magician Among the Spirits, helping me rediscover what I had right in front of me but had taken for granted.

So, I hope I’ve made up for my blunder, and if I were going to rank this along with the others, which I am, then I would put this album snuggly and deservedly in the #3 slot, between Interpol and Neil Halstead (and further proof that the old guys can still kick it up with the new, I mean young, I mean…).

And don’t worry, Forget Yourself…you’re on my ’03 radar.

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