Entry for August 19, 2005


The Church


EMI 46256

Tracks: Myrrh/Tristesse/Already Yesterday/Columbus/Happy Hunting Ground/Tantalized/Disenchanted/Night Of Light/Youth Worshipper/Roman/The View

Recorded: EMI Studios 301, Sydney, Winter/Spring 1985.

Released:  1985.  Chart Peak na (UK) 146 (US).

Personnel: Steve Kilbey (bs, voc), Peter Koppes (gtr, voc), Richard Ploog (drm, perc, voc), Marty Willson-Piper (gts, voc). Producer and Engineer: Peter Walsh.

*Superb Australian quartet with all the right influences gets it completely right for one magic moment before success and its trappings takes its inevitable toll.

If rock ‘n’ roll bands–particularly successful ones–have preordained career trajectories, Heyday catches Australian band the Church at their absolute peak. The band’s fourth album, it came at a time when international acclaim seemed a definite possibility: the group’s various label deals had begun to unify and they found support from powerhouse conglomerates EMI in the UK and Warner Brothers in the States. Their music was a tasteful  concoction of all things good–Byrdsy, early Pink Floydesque stuff dripping with melodic hooks–and, with proper exposure, massive success seemed a given. Though it would come on a significant level via 1988’s Starfish, the earlier Heyday was the set that delivered on every level but financially.

Recorded on the heels of an 1984 American tour spent promoting Remote Luxury–essentially a five-song EP beefed up with new tracks at new US label Warner Bros.’ request–the multinational quartet (Brit guitarist Willson-Piper the only non-Australian) were energized by the possibility of a large new audience. Heyday combined the strengths evidenced on their prior three albums–sharp songwriting, a psychedelic edge, extreme charisma–and focused everything into neat little packets of accessibility. Strings and horns subtly garnished a few tracks, a baroque keyboard surfaced once or twice, and loud, proud guitars drove every song deep into memory. There were no missteps whatsoever.

To certain critics, the music of Heyday seemed divinely inspired, and in a purely critical sense, it was. A casual conversation this writer had with the band at the time still lingers: Sitting at a bar discussing favorite records, Church members Kilbey, Willson-Piper and Koppes reeled off a dazzling rogues gallery of artists including Love, Tomorrow, Big Star, Arthur Lee, Television, the Monkees’ “Porpoise Song,” John Cale, Can, Amon Duul II, the Raspberries, the Pretty Things, Cockney Rebel, Be-Bop Deluxe, the Only Ones, and…essentially,  everything  good by anyone good.  That the music of Heyday reflects those influences, but never directly emulates a single one, partly explains why their music resonated so deeply for some.

With 1988’s American success of “Under The Milky Way”–which took follow-up Arista album Starfish to gold status, finally–the band began a downhill slide from which they have never fully recovered. Though they continue to soldier on, still showing occasional glimmers of greatness, one is left remembering exchanges that took place at a small American bar just months before Heyday was recorded. Remarked main songwriter Steve Kilbey about the likes of Alex Chilton and Arthur Lee: “I think all those guys like were just sort of random geniuses that for two albums, say, were really inspired. And then, whatever it was just moved on, and left them not knowing what they were doing.”

Further listening:  Of Skins And Hearts (1981), Séance (1984)


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