Gold Afternoon Fix
by The Church
REVIEWS and COMMENTS
'An Afternoon Fix'
★★★★ (4 stars)
Despite their longevity and advanced cult status, The Church have never maintained a high profile outside their native Australia. This is due in no small part to leader Steve Kilbey's uncompromising dedication to quirky pop subversion, and the band's passive dreamworld soundscapes.
Flowing on from 'Starfish', last year's impressive Arista debut, 'An Afternoon Fix' [sic] marks no startling digression. All the same, it is more immediate than its predecessor and, on one track at least, notably superior.
'Metropolis' is an assured opening move, Kilbey's reminder to us of his surefooted mastery of commercial neo-psychedelia, the simple lead motif automatically familiar yet unceasingly fresh. But 'Fading Away' and 'Essence' are really what Kilbey is all about: sleepy 12-string slipstreams spilling harmonics; surges of dense rhythm guitar checked by narcissistic prettiness; aural depth wed with elusive psychedelics; Kilbey's distinctively baritone breathing out obscure imagery, making comparisons with Robyn Hitchcock irresistible.
Kilbey permits himself a rare display of overt humour on 'Terra Nova Cain', the title pun fair warning for a song where the legacy of Bowie and Bolan's space cadet period takes its revenge. It's a deliberately ludicrous confection sweetened mercilessly with strings and effects common sense dictates should have been left on the rack. By contrast, the brevity and pseudo-rustic mandolin of folky 'Monday Morning' touches the opposite extreme, and 'City', which follows on a bed of bongos and something sounding suspiciously like sitar, lets Kilbey do his dippy hippy thing; even the hopeful romantic, he cops from the Stones 'Satanic Majesties', but then overlays a nice whitewash that's too trite to stick.
With 'City' still reverberating in your ears, you are primed for 'Russian Autumn Heart', the seasonal evocation of which lives up to its title. The outro coda — swirling, twirling and feeding back just so — is particularly noteworthy.
But it's 'Transient', the final track [wrong, perhaps he means 'Grind' here - fip], that really packs the heartpunch, wherein a compulsive, hypnotic momentum creates a dynamic musical mirage. 'Transient' ['Grind'?] puts Kilbey's writing into a much more active context, one you can't help feeling might have been more frequently employed.
Gold Afternoon Fix
Arista 210 541
Having finally scored a hit with their last album Starfish and an American Top 40 single with Under The Milky Way, The Church then perversely disappeared to indulge in some rather uneven solo efforts. The good news is that they've now reunited with their strongest, most focused album so far. The songs are more a group effort, the rough edges have been polished up with the help of co-producer and LA session man Waddy Wachtel (this actually gives them more edge and clarity rather than blanding them out) and both lyrics and music are noticeably more direct. There are a couple of recognisable digs here at the music industry among Steve Kilbey's lyrics, as well as songs about some of the low-life characters and less pleasant surprises encountered along the road to success. Although this does occasionally make them sound like a cross between The Byrds and Lou Reed, the attractive, dreamy Church sound of yore still prevails with its chugging energy, jangling guitars and understated melodies. After 10 years following their own star, The Church show that it's still possible to succeed with tasteful, artistic rock music without having to resort to the lowest common denominator. ★★★★ (4 stars)
GOLD AFTERNOON FIX
The Church have settled into middle age far more comfortably than you might have expected. "Gold Afternoon Fix" picks up where 1988's "Starfish" let off, mining a similar mix of Philip K Dick, dope and delusions, filtered through singer Steve Kilbey's magnesium-eroded, despair-charred voice.
"GAF" further explored Kilbey's new found obsession with abandoned cities, burnt-out technology and human emotional interaction—an electronically jumbled mix of nirvana, apocalypse and drug overload, photosynthesised images of flesh, blood and bricks, and the lives and minds seeping through the cracks in each.
Once paisley, The Church's new mysticism is now vivid, metallic, the aural equivalent of a post-apocalyptic Dali complete with aqua blues and electra greens.
It's at its best on the first side of this LP, on songs like "City", "Metropolis" and "Monday Morning", when they're detailing how the future wasn't a big bang but an uncontrollable slide out of sync for science and nature—"Back in metropolis the weather is ridiculous, what's it all leading too [sic]?"
Indeed, "Gold Afternoon Fix" is panoramic in its preoccupations—dreams and thunder, female universes—a sodium-toned "Bladerunner" landscape patented for their own backyard where the guitars no longer ring but brood, sounding an imaginary death knell for a worn out, silent planet. "Is anybody there?" Kilbey enquires during "Pharoah"—I hope so, there's life in this old world yet.
Golden [sic] Afternoon Fix
The Church scored something of a hit with 'Starfish' in 1988. 'Gold Afternoon Fix' is perhaps an unlikely follow-up. This is by no means an immediate record and at times it seems even ponderous and slow. But it also has some fine redeeming features. Slowly, surely, they begin to make themselves known
Despite the jaunty opening chords to 'Metropolis' it isn't until the fourth track, 'You're Still Beautiful' that things begin to seriously look up. Guitars swoop in and out over a restrained bass thump. Over this, vocalist Steve Kilbey intones an impassioned tale of a war between internal and external beauty.
They follow this by another killer, 'Terra Nova Cain', a story of interplanetary close encounters. The lyrics to both these songs are intelligent and their choruses catchy. Elsewhere, the songs maybe suffer from too downbeat a delivery but if you can by-pass that 'Good [sic] Afternoon Fix' certainly grows with each successive play. It's an album worth persevering with; loud and raucous it isn't but restrained and intelligent it is.
★★★½ (3-1/2 stars)
Australia's the Church aims for an aura of cool mystery on "Gold Afternoon Fix." They almost get there.
Steve Kilbey sings in a breathy, distant voice, never getting too worked up about the weird, science-fiction lyrics.
The overall sound is minor-key, melodic and "dreamy," to quote Kilbey, although the wailing, quavering guitars of Marty Willson-Piper and Peter Koppes spin an emotional counterpoint.
All the elements mesh on "Metropolis," a major-key tune as strange and embracing as a perfect day in late fall — a thousand years in the future. Almost as good is "Fading Away," a melodic drone that suggests a more restrained Velvet Underground.
Mostly, however, the melodies aren't very memorable. Kilbey's voice begins to sound affected and boring after a while. "Gold Afternoon Fix" is so dreamy it just sort of blows by without making much of an impression.
'GOLD FIX' LACKS GLITTER, ADVENTURE
★★ (2 stars)
For The Church, the artistic vision of the whole does not equal some of its parts.
These longtime purveyors of dreamy, paisley-tinged folk-pop finally vaulted out of cult-band obscurity with 1988's Starfish by scoring a Top-40 hit with the luscious Under the Milky Way.
In addition to triggering reissues of its 10-year back catalog—including such gems as Remote Luxury and The Blurred Crusade—the Australian group's unexpected stateside success drew more attention to its normally low-profile solo projects.
For years, bassist-lead singer Steve Kilbey, guitarist Marty Willson-Piper and guitarist Peter Koppes have been venting their quirkier, more adventuresome ideas on such independent-label albums as Willson-Piper's jangly Art Attack and Rhyme, Koppes' From the Well and Kilbey's primitive The Slow Crack and recent collaboration with Game Theory's Donnette Thayer in a makeshift band called Hex.
Unfortunately, Gold Afternoon Fix—the title is a stock market term referring to the daily closing price of gold—doesn't reflect the more challenging direction of their recent solo efforts. It also fails to recreate the lush pop charm of Starfish.
Returning co-producer Waddy Wachtel—a longtime L.A. session guitarist known for his work with Linda Ronstadt and Warren Zevon—buries the rhythm section and shimmering 12-string acoustic guitars in a dense sea of electric guitars that drone more than they drive, obscuring the skeletal melodies of such brooding numbers as Pharoah, You're Still Beautiful and Terra Nova Cain (their best song title since 1984's Constant in Opal).
Coupled with Kilbey's droll, almost whispered lead vocals—which at times recall Al Stewart—this approach leads to an unaffecting, sometimes unsettling sound that grows more repetitious as the album progresses. The lone respites are Metropolis, the breathtaking first single, and the two tracks that aren't piloted by Kilbey's voice: Willson-Piper's ragged Russian Autumn Heart and Koppes' engaging Transient.
Gold Afternoon Fix finds The Church in a creative purgatory, a disappointing fate considering most of their previous group and solo efforts have been stepping stones to pop salvation.
3-½ stars (dots)
Dreamy, strange, talented
The dreamy and surrealistic band the Church are back with a new album. Gold Afternoon Fix is the Australian quartet's seventh album and a follow-up to their excellent 1988 release, Starfish. Gold Afternoon Fix would have to be one heck of an album to be better than Starfish. It succeeds in some departments but fails in others.
The Church is not a band short on talent. Steve Kilbey (bass, vocals), Marty Wilson-Piper [sic] (guitars, vocals), and Peter Koppes (guitars, vocals) all have successful solo careers.
When it comes to recording with The Church, the three have reached an agreement — whoever writes the lyrics gets to sing the song. This isn't a big deal, as Kilbey ends up singing lead on 11 of the album's 13 tracks.
Gold Afternoon Fix starts out with "Pharaoh," a song that will introduce the uninitiated to The Church's trademark dreamy sound and strange lyrics. This is followed by the first single, "Metropolis," an upbeat little number that features Koppes on mandolin (that's right, it's not Peter Buck!) and "Terra Nova Cain," a psychedelic song about the adventures of a space-hopping girl.
The album hits a lull with "City" and "Monday Morning," which are both slow and lifeless, but picks up again with "Russian Autumn Heart". Wilson-Piper [sic] handles lead vocals on this song plus plays some nifty riffs. "You're Still Beautiful" is a haunting song describing the downfall of an actress, presumably through substance abuse, while "Disappointment" is a hypnotic, slow song that will make the listener feel as if he or she is floating on a sea of Jell-O.
The album's big highlight is "Transient," with Koppes on lead vocals. The guys really rock on this one. The song starts with the hook line "here for now," and by the middle of the song the listener can't help but sing along. It's almost as good as "Reptile," the rockin' tune from Starfish.
After another lull, the album ends on a great note with "Grind," the magnum opus of the album. Adding acoustic guitars and piano to their usual repertoire, the Church creates a rock epic.
Gold Afternoon Fix is a good album that has some dull moments, but definitely shouldn't be overlooked. Although the Church may show up on the WXYC countdown from time to time, they aren't as weird as a lot of the other groups usually listed. Their sound is accessible and those who like mainstream rock (not pop) should enjoy their stuff.
In case you're wondering, Gold Afternoon Fix is a stock market term. The price of gold is set every afternoon and fixed overnight. But, if you ask Steve Kilbey what it means, he'll say, "To me, the phrase means a record to play on a nice afternoon."
The latest LP from The Church is its best since 1985's "Heyday." Songs like "Transient" and "City" recall earlier baroque tenderloin like "It's No Reason" from the "Seance" LP. "Terra Nova Cain," with its lyrics that could be about alien seduction or just a kinky lover, and "Russian Autumn Heart" are the hardest rocking, but "You're Still Beautiful" takes the surliest stance. As with previous LPs, the wonderment of "Gold Fix" is in the makeup of the songs. Producer Waddy Wachtel, who worked on The Church's best-seller to date, "Starfish," uses textures and pacing as if he's creating rites to a secret society; the initiation is in the listening. Shards of near-raga guitar groom "Metropolis" into a more handsome number that it might otherwise be, and "Grind" a blues tune disguised as progressive pop, gets the most out of Steve Kilbey's sullen vocals and Richard Plogg's [sic] drumming.
'Gold Afternoon Fix' is hardly your average Church music
It's no accident that The Church's latest work is dressed in a black-and-white cover — there's nothing technicolor about it.
In fact, "Gold Afternoon Fix" (Arista) is an inviting journey into a forboding [sic] dream world where the gray lines between reality and fantasy are as often as hazy as the lyrics.
Simply put, this isn't your average Church music.
From the whispering wind and jingling chimes of "Pharoah" through the deliberate, almost oppressive beat of "Grind," this album weaves a surrealistic tapestry of other-worldliness. Some songs leave you blissfully relaxed; others, totally unnerved.
Together 10 years, this Australian band remained largely anonymous until breaking into the Top 40 with a single from its "Starfish" album. The band's three primary members — Steve Kilbey, Marty Willson-Piper and Peter Koppes — have since turned in solo projects.
Now, however, the group appears ready to fly with "Fix."
This week the album took over the No. 1 spot on Radio & Records' New Rock charts. And preparations are already under way for a world tour.
Their solo projects behind them, the members have returned to collaboration, co-writing all the music on "Fix." The lyrics are also sung by whichever band member penned them and the harmony is flawless.
Nevertheless, lyrics are often lost in the instrumental. And most of those which can be deciphered are... well, strange.
On the other hand, "Monday Morning" is clearly a song of remorse, of dreams and opportunities missed and "Grind" a song about making the best of a bad situation.
The title cut? There isn't one, but the title is a reference to the time of day when the price of gold is set on the stock market. But if this one catches on, it should go beyond gold and straight to platinum.
Any doubts that The Church cannot harness its talent consistently should be erased by the band's latest offering. The album has a panoramic edge, melody, mysticism and a depth forged by the recent individual adventures of Steve Kilbey and co. Although not as resonant as the 1099 success 'Starfish', the album covers diverse terrain, and reaffirms the band's ability to procure a distinctly elusive sound with a standard array of instruments. 'Metropolis', the lead track, is uncharacteristically optimistic for Kilbey, catchy and tailored for radio. 'Terra Nova Cain', 'Russian Autumn Heart' and 'Transient' inject more heat into the amp, reminding Church-goers that the boys haven't forgotten how to play rock. A balance is achieved with the delicately controlled buoyancy of 'City', while 'Disappointment' is a mandatory excursion into Kilbey's gloom/doom department. Despite its twists and turns, this album is welded at every point by a cohesion that makes for interesting listening.
★★★ (3 stars)
The members of Australia's The Church, together for a decade, seem to be continually sharpening their already proven instincts for the kind of pop and rock that works its magic via tugging rhythms, warm electric- and acoustic-guitar overlays and often elusive lyrics.
"Gold Afternoon Fix," which aims directly at the money-lust that makes the world go round, also takes on love, both its beginnings ("Metropolis") and, on "Disappointment," its end: "Take back her keys," singer-bassist Steve Kilbey laments. "They say, 'Hey, everything will work out fine.'"
In short, Kilbey, and regular collaborators Marty Willson-Piper and Peter Koppes connect, from start to finish.
After The Church's success on the open American market with Starfish, a logical step would have been to release an even more commercial effort. Fortunately the band's more surreal instincts took hold. The Church seem to be a band in constant creative turmoil. As each member's solo aspirations push and pull on the band concept, the end truth is that each individual's best work is with the others. Side one is strong throughout with lots of radio potential on trax like "Essence," "Terra Nova Cain" and "Russian Autumn Heart." Side two is where the real fun begins. The band stretches out sonically and atmospherically. "You're Still Beautiful" (an ode to graceless aging) is the closest thing to a spoof you'll ever hear Steve Kilbey sing. From then on, things get dreamier and dreamier.
Despite all their successful solo projects, the whole of this Australian band is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Sterling effort radiates strong tunes and intelligent lyrics, like the clever "Terra Nova Cain." First single, "Metropolis," is making its mark on album rock and modern rock radio. The mainstream breakthrough started with "Starfish," the group's previous album, but now is truly the time for pop fans to congregate at the band's altar.
This is an album that you sink into. There's not much rockin' here, but one helluva lot of swaying. These guys surprised the hell out of me when I saw them live last year: they were way hot! And that holds true for this album too. You can't often sit through 16 songs on a CD and not get nauseous at two or three or... ok, I'll be honest, old Marty W-P does a completely crap vocal on 'Russian Autumn Heart' but other than that, vocalist/bassist Steve Kilbey does just fine. But I don't understand what his problem's been... in interviews both on TV and in print he has this colossal chip on his shoulder. Like the size of Mt. Everest. Hell, lighten up, you're in a great band, this is a great album and sod those creeps that get their claws in. He needs some mental ego armor!
Amateur analysis aside (like what the hell does it have to do with it all... I think it does...) Steve's languid voice has a lot more attitude on some of the tracks, giving numbers like 'Terra Nova Cain' and 'Essence' a new level of meaning. I think.
Like I keep claiming, I'm not much on guitar pop but these guys create atmospheres and melodies that make my poor head reel. That Marty Willson-Piper's got some clever fingers! And who gives a blow if they're from Australia? They could be from Outer Mongolia for all I care as long as they keep this magic up. They're just outright masters at their music and hurrah for that. My, aren't we the little cheerleader? Ahh, they deserve it.
Gold Afternoon Fix is one of the most underrated and overlooked albums of all-time. Beautiful yet haunting, foot-stomping yet depressing. Great story-telling with brilliant music, this has it all to be everyone's best of all time. Note: Grind is perfection.
Hard to imagine but at one brief point in the late 80s the Church were flirting with the big time after the success of Starfish. At times darker and grander than its predecessor, and void of any potential hit single outside of Metropolis, GAF went bust. And the fairly lukewarm reviews and the Joshua Tree like cover didn't help, but on reflection GAF is stronger than most people give it credit. Just too cynical for the mainstream breakthrough Starfish created.
Underground bands tend to hit it big only upon slickening their sound. But when Australian cult faves The Church lushed up an already grandiose mix with strings and horns for 1985's Heyday, all they received was a pink slip from Warner Bros. Instead, the band achieved pop success two years later with "Under The Milky Way," an unadorned ballad that singer/bassist Steve Kilbey fashioned after a Sinatra tune from his boyhood days.
The folks at Arista should thus be pleased that the band's latest, Gold Afternoon Fix, continues in a more down-to-earth vein. Guitars prevail, the psychedelic affectations of earlier records are barely apparent (save in the LP title), and LA session vet Waddy Wachtel once more provides smooth production without commercial overkill.
For the listener, however, results remain mixed. Clearly, having dropped the 60s angle, The Church are still searching for an identity that fits. They could learn from the relative restraint of their smash; the best tracks on Gold Afternoon Fix mine the same subtle terrain as "Milky Way," with Kilbey reining in his more extravagant lyrical impulses and the band following suit with spare arrangements and languid tempos. Sure, it's the kind of stuff that can fade to nothingness on your home stereo, but on a Walkman, it becomes the perfect soundtrack to your sad little existence. "Disappointment," the record's loveliest track, smartly borrows "Milky Way"'s vaguely Latin rhythms and vocal intimacy, but goes even further, gently suggesting the cloudiness of regret, an emotional inertia born of romantic devastation.
The same appealing moodiness pervades "City," "Laughing" and "Monday Morning," but it's offset by a few strident attempts at decadent dance-pop. The better tracks on their last record had an undercurrent of sinuous menace that gave them a needed charge, but here Kilbey goes overboard into crass, sub-Bowie obnoxiousness. He simply doesn't have the sexual charisma to carry off intentional trash like the space opera scenarios of "Terra Nova Cain" and "Metropolis," which offer colorful intergalactic scenery as an excuse for the takeoff of Kilbey's libido.
A few more irresistible melodies might've saved Gold Afternoon Fix from its own goofiness. As subsequent tracks bear out, however, Kilbey's too busy trying to link his sci-fi visions to a major statement on time itself. He could learn something from guitarist Peter Koppes' "Transient," as the record's most dynamic rocker and as its definitive statement on the temporal meaning of rock'n'roll: "Here for now."
'Gold Afternoon Fix'
Maybe it's something to do with the weather. Five years ago, at the time of their shamefully neglected 'Heyday' LP, Australia's The Church appeared to be suffering from big-blue-sky-dreamers syndrome. 'Heyday' was a delightful album, but its paisley gauze of guitar textures and infolded melodies was too conspicuously a filtering of laid back (Californian) Byrds-iness.
Well it could be the Greenhouse Effect unsettling Antipodean weather patterns, or it could be that the band took time off for solo ventures after the transitional 'Starfish' LP, but 'Gold Afternoon Fix' is certainly a shadier, more sultry affair.
They are still dealing primarily in fluid, impressionistic guitar figures, but the songs are more direct, and a rockier edge has crept in. Main vocalist/lyricist Steve Kilbey is quite the little Lou Reed at times, and nothing so blunt as the "Your little bunch of followers turned you into a fool/The butt of all their vicious jokes" lyric to 'You're Still Beautiful' would have made it into earlier cloud-free abstractions. Maybe they found out that too much sun gives you skin cancer.
'Terra Nova Cain' is sexily sinister, 'Metropolis' is addictively poppy in a 'Hey! Wind the windows down and let's cruise!' sort of a way, and the searing burst of 'Essence' is pushy enough to give Guy Chadwick a few extra worry lines.
Some of the ideas are less than successful (the dreary strum 'Disappointment' is just that) but there are enough good ones for this to sound more like an accomplished debut, than something released ten years into their career. (7)
The most bashed album in the band's catalog. And unfairly judged in my opinion.
"Gold Afternoon Fix" may show the band's frustration at times with an awful situation in the studio, but the band is still firing on all thrusters here. "Pharoah," opens the album ala destination from the previous "Starfish" as a sonic nightmare brought to fruition. The song to me SCREAMS to be made into a visual masterpiece, but that is not what the boys are about so settling for the just under 4 minutes of a romp through hell and back will have to suffice.
"Metropolis" is the song that cemented The Church in my musical vocabulary. I actually like it better than "Under the Milky Way," in terms of the band's commercial appeal and was introduced to it on college radio, while I was actually in COLLEGE so I consider it a baptism to the band of sorts. Pure brilliance.
"Terra Nova Cain," is Steve playing around again with his imagery to grand effect. "City," is pure pop heaven, soft and melodious as is "Monday Morning," one of my favorite Church tunes for it's simplicity, yet it is intricate and engrossing at the same time, something quite a few bands can manage to pull off.
"Essence" is another pop gem and has hooks to spare. "You're Still Beautiful" may be a strange offering, but it is a fun track to behold. "Russian Autumn Heart" finds Marty having fun while "Disappointment" is Steve hearkening back to his melancholy best as he does later with "Grind," the standout closing track.
"Fading Away" is one of my favorite tracks with it's mantra-like chorus.
While arguably not their most appealing album, one that should simply not have been discarded to the cheap bins either. "Starfish" was a tough act to follow, and I think the boys deserve a listen or several dozen for that matter for producing a consistently listenable piece of work like "Gold Afternoon Fix."