Of Skins And Heart
by The Church


The Church

Of Skins And Hearts [sic]


When the men are separated from the boys, what's left are in-between bands like The Church. Their music powers along with a knife-edge balance of pointed, bashing guitars and tough, leathery drumwork smacking of adolescent aggression.

Yet the descriptive, in-depth lyrics and complex, adventurous arrangements hint of much greater maturity. It's this quality—this interplay between boyish pranks and worldly ways—that helps the listener sweat through the lesser passages of Of Skins and Hearts [sic] and to become totally engrossed in its standout pieces.

The first three tracks happen to be the album's best. Opener "For A Moment We're Strangers" skips along to twitching guitar and a plasticine chorus that stretches its haunting melody to the limit. It's a dark, moody number that owes its bit to its new wave openness and restrained brutality. "Chrome Injury" touches more on heavy metal rock, with distorted electric guitars treading on some raucous, rich rhythms and the heady, bluesy vocals of Steve Kilbey inflicting long-felt audio blows.

But these works are just an appetiser for the pop-bent mentality and thick instrumentation of "The Unguarded Moment." The chorus tag reminds one of the sixties' British sound but the uninhibited instrumental works brings it right back to modern times. Certainly it is one number sure to vie for top Australian single of the year. (And that ain't an award to sneeze at anymore).

After this wham-bang start, Of Skins and Hearts [sic] fades out into a mid-life crisis in which the futuristic, electric poetry of "Is This Where You Live?" supplies the only moment of glory. It's Ultravox-styled, new romance approach works on a slow but precise beat that demands high volume and bass settings for complete appreciation.

The rest of the middle tracks energise without compromise but lack the individuality to live with the tracks discussed above.

However, when you think The Church are about to retreat into obscurity, they come back in fine style on the exit track, "Don't Open The Door to Strangers."

This 80s rocker, with its oblique, highly distinctive rhythm showcases a band that is presently taking an elevator ride to the top and thoroughly enjoying the trip along the way.

Heralded by early calling card The Unguarded Moment and the no-less killer She Never Said, 1981's "Of Skins And Heart" is an impressively taut debut LP. Kilbey was still looking for a distinctive vocal and bass style, Willson-Piper had only recently got his first 12-string electric and Koppes hadn't yet shaken off the blues-rock licks, but the band's mojo was already brewing. For a Moment We're Strangers and Bel-Air - graced by Koppes' wonderfully understated solo - are spectral guitar-pop cuts, while the brain-melting Is This Where You Live is the four-piece's first certified wig-out.

★★★★☆ (four stars out of five)

The Church

Of Skins and Heart


Not many bands these days are interested in electric 12 string guitars. That distinctive chiming sound has largely been forgotten along with The Byrds' last hit. But Sydney's The Church have revived the sound to good effect on their debut album without sounding like a bunch of half-baked folkies.

The Church are the dark horses of Oz rock. Until the recent success of their single, The Unguarded Moment, hardly anybody outside Sydney (and not many there either) had heard of them. For a band who were formed less than a year ago, they will now surprise many people with this very assured album.

The Church have had some difficulty gaining acceptance on the pub circuit because they have very little to do with hard rock'n'roll and the more extreme forms of dancing it provokes. Bass guitarist and vocalist Steve Kilbey writes melodies that need to be related to through the mind rather than the body. It is ambient music that still retains a strong basis in the backbeat, and in this respect they have a lot in common with Flowers [Icehouse].

Not that The Church are any intellectual's dream. Steve Kilbey's angst-riden, precious lyrics forbid that. Two songs, Bel-Air and Is This Where You Live, falter because they appear to be constructed to highlight the self-indulgent words and consequently lack melodic momentum. Particular the latter, which at a sombre seven and a half minutes, proves to be a bit of an ordeal.

The best moments of Of Skins And Heart are the shorter, more up-tempo pop numbers. For A Moment We're Strangers is in the appealing vein of The Unguarded Moment (which is included here), while Chrome Injury, Memories In Future Tense and Fighter Pilot...Korean War are more complex and hard edged, displaying a less commercial side of the band. As a bonus the album includes their first single, She Never Said, which in its instrumental simplicity and lyrical directness, places it in marked contrast to the other tracks. This songs is the closest The Church come to dance music.

A feature throughout the album is the excellent understated guitar interplay between Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper. Their wash of ringing guitars neatly complements the moody intensity of Steve Kilbey's songs. The American Bob Clearmountain's very clean production job is a subtle yet major asset to the record.

Like any debut album, Of Skins And Heart displays its influences on its sleeve (in this case English art-rock tempered through late '60s American folk rock and psychedelia). Though it is not a stunning listening experience, it is a still a good record and the band can be proud of it. The LP should go a long way to providing the audience respect and recognition that The Church deserve (and maybe begin a comeback of the electric 12 string guitar!)

The Church's debut LP beings with a song so captivating that it took about (conservatively) a dozen listenings to it alone before I could let the tone arm track down the rest of side one.

Imagine, if you will, the Searcher's "Needles And Pins" guitar mutated into "When You Walk In the Room," played and sung by The Only Ones. Then you've got some idea of the initial intensity generated by Steve Kilbey and The Church's "The Unguarded Moment."

Ringing guitars (in the same sense that gave the Byrds distinction in the mid '60s) are they key focus of Australia's The Church. But while they indeed can help put forth some music that can border on rock-popular brilliant, they can also be misused, a fact which the band apparently becomes aware of after pushing the next three songs through similar structures and losing effectiveness further with each track.

The second side again kicks off with a killer track (add Ducks Deluxe pub/Dylanesque to the chimey backup), but does not again become totally effective until the record's final track (seven and one-half minutes of "Is This Where You Live"). even though that track takes quite a while to finally rev up to the guitar ring groove that is the reason for its overall success.

The Church seems to know (or at least discovered before the end of side one) that they can become passe if they live by the signature guitar. Though most of their writing attempts fall short, tracks like "The Unguarded Moment" and "Bel Air" should serve to warrant them another shot.

The Church

Of Skins And Heart


This is the debut from Sydney four piece The Church. The Church came together about a year ago, and secured a deal with the Beatles' publishing firm, ATV Northern Songs, soon after beginning live performances.

The album, Of Skins And Heart, was produced by ATV's Chris Gilbey and mixed in the United States by Bob Clearmountain. It is well produced, clear and dynamic, accenting The Church's distinctive aspects.

Since the recording was completed, drummer Nick Ward has departed, being replaced by the extraordinary Richard Ploog, resulting in a punchier sound.

Of Skins And Heart opens with For A Moment We're Strangers, which is in writer, vocalist, bass player Steve Kilbey's words about "...knowing someone, and then seeing them again as you did when you first saw them." It also establishes a kind of theme which runs through the album to the last track, the sad, acoustic Don't Open The Door To Strangers, where "...you find that the person going all through the album is a stranger to start with."

For A Moment We're Strangers is a good example of the whole album, which can't be said, although it is distinctively The Church, to have a great deal of variation. It's a medium quick pop song, notable for the ringing, jangling Byrds/Beatles influenced guitar, a little distorted, hinting at the much more powerful live sound. The song flows smoothly, rising through the verses, to a choppy chorus, which fades down to quiet again for the next verse, all the while accompanied by melodic lead guitar and Kilbey's nasal vocals.

Chrome Injury, with its Byrds harmonies is much the same, and leads to the single, The Unguarded Moment, and that reminiscent Ticket To Ride riff.

Memories In Future Tense is more powerful, with its insistent chugging rhythm, and a little more necessity in Kilbey's singing. A more aggressive song, with the guitars, in patches, grinding with a harder edge.

Finishing the side is Bel-Air, which is a quieter, commentary sort of song, which hangs mainly on the "He can never be" at the end.

Side Two opens with Is This Where You Live, which begins magnificently with the strains of an instrument named a vocoder (spelling uncertain) which sounds somewhere between a synthesiser and droning human voices. A song that captures a real tension, it develops into a typically ringing Church/Byrds co-composition.

She Never Said is a noisier, punchier, rougher and more dynamic song for the song for most, with cutting, far off sounding guitar and thumping drum beat.

Next, Fighter Pilot...Korean War behaves typically, with the usual ambiguous, uneconomical, but moderately colourful lyrical imagery. Steve Kilbey's lyrics are definitely not written for the purpose of direct statement, and border often on meaninglessness, hoping mainly to convey a feeling, a gist of some thought or situation which happens to exist.

Don't Open The Door To Strangers ends the album on a kind of sad, worn out, hung-over late at night feeling. It's basically acoustic, piano and guitar (no, they don't play it live), with some electric lead, giving it a distant, Dark Side of The Moon atmosphere.

A notable Australian pop album, Of Skins And Heart may become just another curiosity or it may be the beginning of something. That's up to The Church.