The Church released its debut, Of Skins and Hearts,
in April of 1981. The band has taken the bruises and lacerations
that come with a quarter century in the music industry and,
admirably, remain interesting and relevant artists. This acoustic
collection - more than just an "unplugged" record - serves less as
an alternative introduction to new fans and more as a love
letter to those listeners likely to thrill at subtle changes in tempo
and texture to already adored songs.
nine catalogue selections acoustically refitted for this collection
span the Church's career, beginning in '81 with the band's
first hit, "The Unguarded Moment," straight through to "Sealine"
from 2003's Forget Yourself. Both of these bookend tracks are
highlights here. "The Unguarded Moment" opens the album with
confidence, completely comfortable in its new skin,
and "Sealine," immense in its original form with frosty
synths and swelling bass, succeeds without those qualities thanks to a
strong melody that wouldn't be out of place on an Echo and the
Bunnymen album. "Almost with You," from 1982's The Blurred Crusade, also shines, sounding here like classic John Cale minus the weight of the Welshman's heavy baritone.
the five newly penned selections, "All I Know" is the winner, its
bouncing piano, ghostly harmonica and a cloud-covered chorus
buoyed by light mandolin flourishes. The real surprise, however, is the
Mark Hollis-meets-Richard Butler sound of "Invisible." Originally
the plodding and muddled finale to 2002's After Everything Now This,
it's been generously improved here with Peter Koppes's spare piano
and Tim Powles's soft and improvisatory drums elevating
the expectant melody into the rarefied atmosphere.
Not everything works, though. The group applied a rushed studio process to the making of El Momento,
recording instrumental tracks in three days and vocals in one or two
takes. This quickstep method preserved a rumpled charm, but it
also reveals the imperfections you would expect to hear on a
round of the group's demos. "Tristesse," "Chromium" and "November"
could have been sidelined to the betterment of the collection,
and Steve Kilbey's lyrics have never been a strong suit. His
meandering mysticism often leads to clichés about waking dream states
and women named Belladonna, keeping champions of the band on the
edges of their seats at times, fingers crossed to ward off any
potential lyrics about orcs or elves.
The Church has always been a class act, and El Momento Descuidado doesn't change that. Those only vaguely familiar with the group, however, should start with 1988's Starfish or Buddha's '99 greatest-hits release, Under the Milky Way. Though
this collection of re-interpretations and intermittent new material
isn't the best introduction to the band's morose jangle rock, it is
indicative of its expansive, and somewhat erratic, catalogue,
comprised as it is of some very bright flares, some very suitable
attempts and a wide-of-the-mark misstep or two.
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