I like to check in on the Australian band The Church once every couple of years on the off chance that maybe they’ve come to their senses and started producing the kind of Byrds-y paisley psychedelia they regularly churned out in the ’80s or anything as remotely shimmering and lovely as their big U.S. hit “Under the Milky Way.” The aimless, bloated guitar noodling of their ’90s efforts just didn’t do it for me. Unfortunately, the band’s 17th (and 18th) album isn’t exactly a step in the right direction.
What Universe is is a two-disc set of leftovers and remixes from the sessions that produced 2002’s After Everything, Now This. Bassist/Singer Steve Kilbey, guitarists Marty Wilson-Piper and Peter Koppes, and drummer Tim Powles here offer up an hour and a half of thoroughly self indulgent, progressive rock influenced, ambient-gothic-techno-triphop weirdness.
Disc one, subtitled “Remixture,” kicks off with “Seen It @ The Feelmore,” which sounds a tad like some of U2’s ’90s work. “Stay All Night (Kings Mix)” leaves the impression that the band is taking a more direct, harder rocking approach. The electro rock moves on “Radiant 1934 Mix,” while not exactly catchy do manage to attain an effective, disorienting groove that holds your attention amidst the various whirrings and background voices. Unfortunately three tracks in the middle of the disc, including an 11 minute one, are tuneless drivel. There are the unsettling, percussion heavy “Let Y=3DX (Survival Mix),” the hypnotic, spacy thrum of “The Deep Ache Mix” and the throbbing synth bass groove “Earthfriend (version)” to keep things interesting. And “Down: Nostalgia and Everything After” is a nifty prog-rock concept song in search of a concept album with frequent trumpet interludes. “It’s not a grand illusion / It=EDs a stupid little trick / The show must go on / These people have paid / You’re standing in the wings feeling kinda sick,” Kilbey sings.
Disc two, subtitled “Mixture,” consists of six unreleased tracks. “1st Woman on the Moon” is another 11-minute-plus number to space out to. Unfortunately, it leaves you wondering how anybody thought this stuff was interesting enough to release. “Espionage” and “There You Go” are a bit more conventional and grounded on terra firma musically, which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re any good. By the time “Reward” rolled around, my brain was so numb I was almost starting to like this stuff. Finally, on the set closing “Twin Star,” The Church actually sound like a rock band in guitar heavy segments surrounding a quiet mid section. What a novel concept.
Guess I’ll check in on them again in a couple of years. These discs will make nice Frisbees.