Monthly Archives: July 2009

Elvis Presley – From Elvis In Memphis (Legacy Edition) [reissue]

January 01, 1970

(RCA/Legacy)

 

 

www.legacyrecordings.com


 

1969
is weighing heavily on the pop-culture nostalgist’s brain this summer. Between
anniversaries of the moon landing, Woodstock,
the Manson family murders and the Stonewall riots, the year is being rightfully
acknowledged as a watershed. In all of these discussions though, nobody’s
talking about Elvis. Long seen as more of an icon of the ’50s, Elvis’ impact
was still enormous throughout the 1960s, and 1969 was the pinnacle of Presley’s
late-decade reinvention. The cheesy B-movie roles were still coming, but Elvis
had again turned his focus onto making quality music. Beginning with the
stripped-down and soulful ’68 Comeback
Special,
Presley became intent on presenting himself as a credible pop
singer; although he certainly knew that he was in no position to challenge the
counterculture’s dominant grip on the zeitgeist, he also knew that he was far
and away more relevant than the AM-radio schlock with which he had become
associated.

 

 

The
culmination of that reinvention is the utterly confident and musically solid From Elvis In Memphis, which marked the
first time that Presley had laid down tracks in Memphis since his mid-’50s Sun Studios days.
Remarkably, the sessions didn’t see Elvis trying to fool his audience into
thinking he was that same vivacious young troublemaker, but instead he created
a clutch of skillful and stylized songs that were both age-appropriate and
light years beyond the syrupy schmaltz most people expected of him. By
recording at ex-Stax producer Chips Moman’s American Sound Studios (the same
locale where Dusty Springfield laid down Dusty
In Memphis
), Presley was able to tap into just enough gut-bucket soul to
remind him of where he came from, and the tracks on From Elvis In Memphis find Elvis doing what he does best:
incorporating elements of the music that appealed to him on a visceral level –
soul, gospel, country – and reconfiguring them into a contemporary format. The
result is one of the best studio albums Elvis ever recorded.

 

 

To
be sure, there’s not the level of raw energy and visceral looseness that marked
his early Sun material or his legendary RCA debut album, but Elvis’ voice is in
top form here, reminding even the most casual listener of just how powerful
that voice really was. The arrangements are, appropriately enough, remarkably
spare; while one will hear string swells, horn stabs and background choirs,
they’re kept to an elegant minimum, allowing Presley’s voice to handle the
emotional heavy-lifting. Moman’s decision to let this be an “Elvis
album,” rather than an “Elvis sings soul/country/whatever
standards” album was incredibly wise, and that muddle of ingredients laid
the foundation for such classics as “In the Ghetto,” “Long Black
Limousine” and, of course, “Suspicious Minds.”

 

 

Originally,
the Memphis sessions were parceled out on different releases throughout 1969;
the original Elvis in Memphis only
included the first dozen cuts; this reissue packages together those, along with
the Back in Memphis album (which,
itself, was part of the From Memphis to
Vegas/From Vegas to Memphis
two-fer), and a handful of singles that were
released throughout the year. Compiled together, the 36 tracks work amazingly
well as a consistent album. While these incredible sessions are unlikely to be
treated as rock ‘n’ roll masterpieces along the lines of the Beatles’ and
Stones’ late ’60s work – after all, 1969 was also the year that Presley began
his first Vegas residency – they certainly deserve to be. Not because Elvis is
and was a legend, but because when forced to decide between bubblegum pop,
adult-contemporary snooze and ill-fitting youth revolution, Presley instead
struck out on a path that was uniquely his own, and created material that was
far stronger than it needed to be, and exponentially more interesting than the
majority of what it was surrounded by.

JASON
FERGUSON

 

Violet Vector and the Lovely Lovelies – EP II

January 01, 1970

(Color Wheel)

 

www.colorwheelrecords.com

 

Chapel Hill’s Violet Vector
and the Lovely Lovelies have been tearing up Triangle stages since 2006, and I
was privileged to finally catch ‘em perform this past January. To say I was
smitten by their femme-pop tilting psychedelia – equal parts Nuggets-style Farfisa churn, Syd
Barrettesque whimsy and distaff yip ‘n’ yelp – is an understatement. One moment
the band (not all of the members of the fairer sex, incidentally; see photo
below) would be pogoing across a kaleidoscopic, Day-Glo tinted landscape of
Willy Wonka proportions, then before you knew it they were plowing into a
Yardbirds-meets-Sleater-Kinney riotous raveup.

 

EP II, then,
arrives just in time for a midyear VVATLL fix. Recorded at various Tarheel
studios and mixed by the inimitable Brian Paulson, its five songs handily sum
up the band’s aesthetic to date while ensuring that the “fun” factor gets
pumped plenty high. Opening track “Grass Is Glowing” – now that is a songtitle worthy of Saint Syd – issues forth on a throbbing
fuzz riff that’s joined soon enough by an oozing organ and the telltale tinkle
of a xylophone, then vocalist Amanda Brooks chimes in with her offhanded
observations on the surreal landscape (mental, perhaps?) that surrounds her.
“I’m sleeping in the flower beds/ I’m waking up to the same day/ Can’t get
away!” she squeaks, in mock dismay. “Applesweet,” with its vintage Blondie/B-52s
vibe and glee club backing vocals, is another highlight. And “Technicolor
Electric,” all handclaps, xylophone, Motown-soul bass and ‘60s girl-group vox, is
a pure retro-pop delight; anyone who fondly remembers late ‘70s,
NYC-by-way-of-NC combo The Cosmopolitans won’t be disappointed.

 

And sure, “retro” is clearly an operative term here, but the
inherent tunefulness and effusiveness on display translates into something that
goes way beyond guilty pleasuredom. “Sounds
like
: cheerleaders with organs and bells” – that’s how VVATLL describe themselves
on their MySpace page. Couldn’t have said it better. I’m cheering myself.

 

Standout Tracks: “Grass
Is Glowing,” “Technicolor Electric” FRED MILLS

 

Upper Crust – Revenge for Imagined Slights

January 01, 1970

(Camp Street Records)

 

www.campstreetrecords.bigcartel.com

 

Doctor Johnson was,
as always, right when he observ’d: “Amongst the divers colonial Practitioners
of the rocque & roll Arts, the Upper Crust do
stand Periwig & brocaded Shoulders above their musickal Brethren, peerless
amongst their Peers, verily unsurpass’d in their dedication to the Riff &
in their Cultivation of the finest poetickal Language, not to mention their
patrician Breeding, sartorial Elegance & impeccably goode Manners.”

 

In Light of such an
extravagant & effusive Panegyric, it was with no small Pleasure that we
took Delivery of an Epistle — by Medium of the electrickal Post — apprizing
us of a brand-spanking new Record Album by the heretofore mention’d young
Gentlemen of the Upper Crust. Said Epistle, soliciting our Reflections &
Disquisitions upon this Item of Novelty, issu’d from the redoubtable Viscount
Frederick Mills of Asheville, Editor of the very Scandal Sheet upon whose Pages
your gentle Gaze now rests.

 

Having fortifi’d
ourselves with a generous Glass of Porter, we gave ourselves o’er to Revenge for Imagined Slights and to the
multitudinous aural Pleasures contain’d therein.

 

Legion are the
Members of the fourth Estate who chuse to opine most scurrilously upon the Debt
of the Upper Crust to colonial Rapscallions the AC/DC. Such libelous &
calumnious Falsehood is worthy only of severe Disapprobation & Rebuke. The
Truth of the Matter, we are reliably inform’d, is that subsequent to his
Deportation Order and whilst awaiting Transportation to Botany Bay, Master
Ronald Belford “Bon” Scott did chance upon the Musick of the Upper
Crust, which he thenceforth usurp’d for his own Ends.

 

Discoursing upon the
poetickal Arts, the venerable Horace insisted upon the Necessity to instruct & delight in commensurate Measure. Such sage Counsel yields a goode
& sound critickal Criterion with which to reckon the aesthetickal Virtues
of this Record Album.

 

As to the first
Principle, one cannot but delight in the divers aural Pleasures so generously
administered by these pueri mirabilis. Electrickal
Guitarists Lord Bendover & the Duc d’Istortion disport gaily, assailing
one’s Ears with Riffs of a bellicose Heft unparallel’d since Colonel Clive
prevail’d ‘gainst the Bengali at the Battle of Plassey; &
neither are their electrickal Guitar Solos of trifling Import: shewing the
dainty Intricacy & outrageous Flamboyance of the choicest French
Costumerie, the Duo soar like paired raptor Birds far above the foul &
pestilent mobile vulgus. Moreover,
Mister Jackie Kickassis summons the Entirety of his virtuosic martial Weight to
bear down upon his Instrument, sallying forth with a Cannonade of Drums akin to
that which was heard when the Eighth Regiment of his Majesty’s Army march’d
victoriously on the Field at Culloden. Furthermore, beneath the lithe, febrile
Fingers of the Count Bassie, the Strings of the electrickal Bass acquire the
Girth & Elasticity of the fearsome Sumatran Python.

 

We are also impell’d
to marvel at the Refinement and Bedazzl’ment of the Poesy herein. Wielding
Words as does a Chirurgeon his Blade upon a diseas’d Organ or a gangrenous
Member, the Upper Crust fashion
eviscerating Satire to rival that of Mister Swift. Moreover, the unbridl’d drollery
of certain Ballads minds us of the ribald comedic
Oeuvre of the late Mister
Wycherley. Furthermore, the great Attic Tragedies hold not a Candle to the
emotive Potentialities of the dramatick Scenari, which would wrench a Catharsis
of delicate & sympathetick Sentiment from the Breast of e’en the most
brutish Peasant.

 

And all this, dear
Listener, deliver’d in Voices worthy of the most angelick Quire.

 

But beyond this
veritable Menagry of aural Delights, in which Matters doth this Record Album instruct us?

 

We are inform’d, not
the once but twice (“Wine Women and Song” & “Rococo”),
of the Pleasures & Perils of the masqu’d Ball, with especial Attention to
the possibility of engaging, unbeknownst, in terribly lewd Behaviour with one’s
own mater familias; “Long Table
for Two” shews us that the Duc D’Istortion, contrary to our Expectations
of the continental Gentry, is most misfortunate in his amorous Pursuits;
“Hereditary Insanity” & “Bedlam” advize us as to the
Hazards of In-breeding so common to the privileged Classes; & although we
are in no Need of reminding, we learn that the Upper Crust are indeed of noble
Stock — the composition “Class up the Ass” leaves no Doubt as to
this Matter.

 

Especial Note should
be made of two plenteously congenial Ditties: the rambunctious & uproarious
“Bedlam” evinces Kinship with the finest Juvenilia of the Motörhead;
& “Chateauneuf-du-Pop,” moving at a Velocity to rival the
ingenious Mister Watt’s new steam Engine, strikes a decidedly more modish Note,
imbibing the Influence of that most ungentlemanly colonial puncque rocque
Troupe, the Ramones.

 

In summary, Revenge for Imagined Slights is a Record
Album of the first Quality. If, as the Bard has noted, Musick be the Food of
Love, then the Upper Crust enjoin their serving Wenches in the Delivery of a
sumptuous Banquet of aural Delights.

 

It has been an
Honour, if not a Privilege, to discourse herein upon the Subject of the Upper
Crust.

 

I remain, with great
Respect and Esteem, &c.

 

W. NEATE

 

Standout Tracks: “Long Table for Two,”
“Rococo,” “Class up the Ass” WILSON NEATE

 

 

 

We Were Promised Jetpacks – These Four Walls

January 01, 1970

(Fatcat)

 

www.fat-cat.co.uk

 

Scottish quartet
We Were Promised Jetpacks has created a kinetic, punk-rock album full of
entrancing melodies, pulsating drums and heavy bass lines; resultantly, making
their debut just as fun as their name. Akin to their label mates Frightened
Rabbit and A Twilight Sad, Jetpacks’ overall sound rests between these two
sonic extremes. They meld Twilight’s loud, angst driven music with Rabbit’s propensity
for pensive lyrics and fashion a sound all their own.

 

What’s more, These Four Walls is wonderfully
juxtaposed. Thompson sings and shouts about loneliness, anxiety over love lost,
being pummeled, little monsters invading one’s mind and deposed protagonists.
Yet Jetpacks manages to transform this macabre concoction into energetic,
danceable and-dare I say it-“upbeat” songs. And after 43 minutes of jumping
around the room like a fool, shouting along with Adam Thompson, we arrive to a
quiet number. Acoustic track “An Almighty Thud” is a fine closer to the album
as Thompson’s warbly voice leaves us with the words “You’re
the last thing I want/ I’m going to stay here.” Walls proves to be a fine debut for this up-and-coming Scottish
band.

 

Standout Tracks: “Conductor,” “Quiet Little Voices,” “Short
Bursts” APRIL S. ENGRAM

 

Dinosaur Jr – Farm

January 01, 1970

(Jagjaguwar)

 

 www.jagjaguwar.com

 

From the time J. Mascis hits that first guitar chord on
“Pieces” this album effortlessly puts you in that early ’90s sweet spot when
Dinosaur Jr was giving the mosh pits of Lollapalooza a lesson in epic
guitar-hero music. With Lou Barlow back on bass and Murph behind the kit, you
may have hoped for something more along the lines of Bug. But that’s not what they’re after here. This is
stadium-rocking guitar-hero splendor filtered through a massive wall of
overdriven Marshall stacks with Mascis sounding sleepier than ever on the mic. If
you’re the type to get hung up on bands evolving over time, you may be
unimpressed. But if the thought of picking up where Green Mind left off sounds like your idea of a good time, you’ll
find plenty here to love, from the bittersweet jangle of “Plans” to the
majestic soul of “All The People.”

 

Standout Tracks: “Pieces,” “All the People” A. WATT

 

Daddy – For A Second Time

January 01, 1970

(Cedar Creek Music)

 

www.cedarcreekrecords.com

 

Back when you kiddies were still watching Saturday morning
cartoons in your spidey PJs and eating chocolate-frosted sugar bombs by the
boxful, two nice young men from Kentucky, and
another from Alabama,
were playing in a critically-acclaimed rock ‘n’ roll band called the bis-quits.
Although these three gents had spun a wonderful collection of intelligent
garage-pop with blues-rock overtones and a soupcon of country twang, they were
soon forgotten, lost in the enormous commercial shadow of a bunch o’ guys from
Seattle named Kurt, Eddie, Chris and their, well, kinda grungy, flannel-clad friends.

 

Fast forward 16 years, and you’ll find Daddy, which is,
really, mathematically two-thirds of the bis-quits playing with some (talented)
pals. Over the past decade-and-a-half or so, the three nice young men – Will
Kimbrough, Tommy Womack, and Mike “Grimey” Grimes – have pursued
various fates in and out of the music biz. Grimes played for a while with
alt-country cut-ups Bare Jr. before escaping the industry’s clutches only to
open his much-lauded record store in Nashville (Grimey’s Music on Eighth – tell
’em the Reverend sent ya!).

 

Kimbrough has toyed around with a critically-acclaimed solo
career that has yielded four solid albums (and an EP), but his real
bread-and-butter has been touring and recording as a guitar-for-hire for folks
like Jimmy Buffett, Rodney Crowell, Todd Snider, and others. Womack, on the
other hand, has put his experience with the bis-quits and, previously, the much
beloved Kentucky cult band Govt. Cheese, to good use as a whipsmart, slightly
neurotic, constantly embattled solo troubadour, also with four acclaimed studio
albums (and a live disc) under his belt.

 

Daddy began as a one-off between friends and former
bandmates, their live 2005 album At the
Woman’s Club
documenting two nights’ shows in Frankfort, Kentucky.
As these things are wont to do, demand for Daddy and the band’s growing
popularity has resulted in For a Second
Time
, the official and righteous Daddy studio debut. A ten-song collection
of various Kimbrough and Womack originals and a handful of collaborations
between the two (and one excellent total band effort), For A Second Time may well be the best collection of pure
music-making that you’ll hear come out of Nashville this year.

 

As they say in Nashville,
it all begins with a song – something forgotten long ago by the industry’s
Music Row – and Kimbrough and Womack are two of the best wordsmiths ever
snubbed by the biz. Both songwriters have been around the block a time or three
and suffered through the indignities and ignorance of men in suits with
corporate smiles, and their experience shines through their songs. The semi-biographical
“Nobody From Nowhere,” for instance, sounds like a John Hiatt outtake
circa Slow Turning, but with Kimbrough’s
slinky fretwork and great harmony singing between Kimbrough and Womack. The
song perfectly sums up the isolation of growing up in the rural South, where
everything is miles away from anything else, and dreams of the big-time are
tempered by simple pleasures.

 

Much of the rest of For
A Second Time
follows a similar tack, Kimbrough and Womack swapping lead
vocals on songs that are built around the former’s tempered optimism and the
latter’s wry sense of humor and joyful cynicism. “Early To Bed, Early To
Rise” is Womack’s advice to a younger generation, an
only-slightly-tongue-in-cheek warning about the rat race from a man that has
lived it firsthand. The New Orleans-tinged “Wash & Fold”
possesses all the funky soul of the Meters, Kimbrough mouthing a sly come-on to
a young lovely that is equal parts Ray Davies and Aaron Neville.

 

Of course, the Daddy guys also recognize a good song when
they hear it, and their loving cover of ’60s-era folkie Mike Millius’ “The
Ballad of Martin Luther King” provides the sort of intricate wordplay that
Womack excels at spitting out. The ode to the African-American hero is
especially ironic provided the band’s deep-rooted Dixie
sound, but these boys have always embraced equality in all things – especially
music – and the song’s folkie origins are amped up with squalls of harmonica,
bluesy guitarwork, and more than a little introspection.

 

The full band collaboration “I Went To Heaven In A
Dream Last Night” is a syncopated, almost stream-of-consciousness tale of
Womack’s brush with the almighty that evinces a dark sense of humor, manic
vocals, and more great throwaway lines and imagery than we can recount here
(although “a funny thing happened on my way to the grave, I didn’t burn
out and I didn’t fade away, my heart kept beating until the end of the
ride” is a pretty damn funny line). The band – which additionally includes
Paul Griffith on drums, Dave Jacques on bass and John Deaderick on keys – backs
it up with a funky-cool, twang-jazz soundtrack with lighter-than-feather cymbal
brushing, scraps of honky-tonky piano, and Kimbrough’s piercing six-string
notes. “He Ain’t Right” is another semi-autobiographical look back at
childhood and what it’s like to be smalltown different, the lyrics pounded home
above a muscular rhythm, bee-sting fretwork, and potent, gospel-tinged
keyboards.

 

Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack bring the best out of each
other, creatively, and with nearly two decades of friendship and shared musical
history to work off of, it should come as no surprise that they’re able to come
up with gem after gem. The three background guys in Daddy are no slouch,
either, but rather talented pros able to cut loose from their day jobs and spin
some fun, complex, and satisfying music behind their charismatic frontmen. Altogether,
For a Second Time adds up to more
than the sum of the individual band member’s talents; Daddy the best band that
you’ve never heard (yet).

 

Stand-Out Tracks: If I had to pick, I’d go with “I Went To Heaven In A Dream Last
Night,” “Nobody From Nowhere,” and, well “He Ain’t Right,”
but really, it’s all good! REV. KEITH A. GORDON

 

Blur – Midlife: A Beginner’s Guide to Blur

January 01, 1970

(EMI)

 

www.emi.com

 

A two-CD “beginner’s guide” to Blur can only take a person
so far, like those two-record sets in the ’70s that took a handful of the
Beatles’ best-loved songs and spread them out across two color-coded sets. To
get the full effect, you had to buy the proper albums, after which the red and
blue collections quickly lost all meaning.

 

So does Midlife make a case for digging deeper? Well, the music more than holds its own, from
early hits like “Girls and Boys” and “She’s So High” through “Beetlebum” and
“Song 2” to no fewer than three songs from Think
Tank
, their latest release, now six years old. But half the charm of Blur
was hearing them evolve from strength to strength, each album more ambitious in
its own way than the last. You can’t just dive right into “Beetlebum,” the
lead-off track from 1997’s indie-centric Blur,
the way this new collection does, and hope to understand how strange it sounded
coming out of 1995’s The Great Escape.
They should have started at the start, with “She’s So High,” and gone through
chronologically, charting the growth. And where is “Country House,” their first
chart-topping U.K. single and a brilliant song to boot? It’s one of several
major hits they’ve overlooked here, others being “Charmless Man” and “On Your
Own,” in favor of album tracks stressing the artier side of Blur’s agenda
(“Trimm Trabb,” “Bugman”).

 

Fair enough. At least they had an arty side to overplay,
unlike their former Brit-pop rivals, the Gallagher brothers. And what
ultimately matters is that every song here makes you want to hear more Blur,
from Graham Coxon’s “Coffee and TV” to the Lennonesque soul of “Tender,” one of
Damon Albarn’s finest hours as the greatest singer Brit-pop ever knew. Here’s
hoping this summer’s reunion leads to two more CDs worth of treasures.

 

Standout tracks: “Beetlebum,” “Tender” A. WATT

 

Crimson Jazz Trio – King Crimson Songbook Volume 2

January 01, 1970

(Inner Knot)

 

www.innerknotrecords.com

 

There’s red in them thar hills. At the very least, there’s
crimson running down the roll of Woodland
Hills, Calif., where
this Kingly trio hails from. After a Volume
One
that found an original Crimsoid drummer Ian Wallace & Co. tackling
all era of this madly complex ensemble, Volume
Two
does likewise in turning Robert Fripp’s collaborative compositions into
spacious jazz improvisations that maintain their elegance while finding a
shocking bit of cool cocktail groove.

 

It may sound odd at first glint, but when Wallace, bassist Tim
Landers and pianist Jody Nardone get maximum playful roominess in which to
roam, they re-conceptualize “The Court of the Crimson King” and “Pictures of a
City” into slurry lounge cuts. They take full advantage of Fripp’s epic chord
changes and shadings and vamp their faces off. The repetition found in
latter-day Crimson gets worked out by Nardone’s rigid rhythmic lines on “Frame
by Frame” with ye old Crimson saxophonist doing a guest turn as snake charmer
par excellence.

 

Standout Tracks: “Islands Suite” “Heartbeat” “The Court of the
Crimson King” A.D. AMOROSI

 

 

Michael Olatuja – Speak

January 01, 1970

(Backdrop)

 

www.obliqsound.com/backdrop

 

The deceptively complicated grooves on D’Angelo’s masterpiece Voodoo never had quite the impact that
they should have. In particular, neo-soulsters didn’t embrace the album’s dark,
muted Afro-Caribbean touches or its exquisite sense of time; in the end, maybe
D’s stretched-out song forms seemed too much like jazz. Surprisingly, some of
that album’s mojo finds its way to Michael Olatuja’s Speak, the British/Nigerian bassist’s solo debut. The fact that
he’s a session guy — a musician’s musician — maybe has something to do with
it.

 

Speak is unfailingly
bright-sounding, so in that aspect, it’s not a direct descendant of
“Voodoo,” but tracks such as the 
gospel-ballad “Altar Call” (sung by Eska Mtungwazi) and the
subtle, off-time funk workout “Hold On” (sung Lynden David Hall and
Andrew Roachford) each flow toward the 5-minute mark without seeming overly
dense or forced. The same care, the same general vibe, is there. And Olatuja
himself shows admirable patience as a bassist — he always buttresses the
groove and never noodles. “Little Sister” (sung by Terri Walker) and
“Le Jardin” (sung by Onaje Jefferson) likewise have their moments.

 

The second half of Speak feels slightly more cluttered and more overtly musical — the final two
compositions, “Walk With Me” and “Mama Ola,” have
full-blown jazz-combo arrangements. Olatuja offsets them with
“Speak,” a hip-hop track that features unfussy rhymes by TY, who
sticks to the positive tip (“self-elected/and self-protected”). If
anything, those songs prove that perfect restraint — the Voodoo kind — is an awfully tough thing to maintain.

 

Standout tracks: “Altar
Call,” “Hold On” JOE WARMINSKY

 

No Certainty Attached: Steve Kilbey and The Church

January 01, 1970

 (Verse Chorus Press)

 

www.versechorus.com

 

BY JENNIFER KELLY

 

Robert Dean Lurie really likes the Church.

 

In fact, Lurie is the sort of fan who writes, with perfect
seriousness, “The Church’s concert on the University of Minnesota
campus in June 1990 was quite possibly the first spiritual experience of my
life.” He goes on to describe himself as a person who spent high school
scribbling down Church lyrics in notebooks, who catalogued Xeroxed press
clippings and, later with the advent of the Internet, spent hours on
Church-related message boards.

 

In the summer of 2003, Lurie had an opportunity that
obsessive fans the world over might salivate over. To research No Certainty
Attached
, he travelled to Australia
for a series of interviews with Church founder Steve Kilbey, guitarist Peter
Koppes and assorted contemporaries.  (He doesn’t
seem to have talked to Marty Willson-Piper.) 
  

 

As a result, there’s a hero worship dynamic to the book that
is its primary strength and occasional weakness. It also must have been obvious
from the start. Kilbey, who met Lurie for one interview, then agreed to a
series of them, ended their first encounter by observing: “I’ve been in your
shoes. I’ve met my heroes. I’ve felt the disappointment when I realized they
were human beings. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt, Robert, even
though I think no one will ever read this book. No one will want it. No one is
interested in me or the Church.”

 

Well, no one except Lurie…

 

And that, paradoxically, makes the book interesting on
several levels. For one thing, Kilbey is an undeniably fascinating character,
moody and mercurial at best, a bit psychotic at worst, at various times in the
band’s history an egomaniac and a Buddhist, a heroin addict and a devoted
family man. Lurie’s unblinking interesting in everything about his hero
necessarily sheds light on the band’s process and personality.    

 

Yet there is also often a
disconnect between what Kilbey is telling Lurie and the worshipful light that
Lurie places him under.  The chapters on
Kilbey’s heroin use (starting about 1990, as the band frittered away the
massive success of Starfish), for instance, are extraordinarily neutral.
“Steve credits the fluid, rhythmic sound of Priest=Aura to the band’s
use of opiates,” Lurie writes – yes, heroin addiction has an upside — while
dispassionately observing that Kilbey, at about the same time, left his live-in
girlfriend and two infant daughters to pursue his addiction.

 

You might call it journalistic
objectivity, except that these relatively straightforward reporting passages
alternate with more personal reactions to the Church’s music. Nearly every
chapter concludes with several pages of track-by-track descriptions of whatever
the band had been working on during the period in question. Lurie makes an
attempt to integrate narrative with criticism, but there are still frequent
gear-shifts as we go from considering band member dust-ups, romantic
relationships, drug buys etc., to line-readings and music reviews.

 

Still, you can’t fault Lurie’s
attention to detail. The book, based on many hours of interviews, exhaustive
reading and a lifetime of simply paying attention to the Church, is detailed
and correct enough to win rave reviews on Church fan sites like Hotel Womb. Yet
he often focuses so hard on the band and its personalities as to fail to create
wider context. In one of the few sections where he does this – and one of the
most interesting to me — Lurie probes the different perceptions of the Church
in the United States and Australia.
In the US,
the Church was seen as part of the semi-underground college rock phenomenon,
alongside bands like R.E.M. and the Replacements. But in Australia, they had broken their
first single on a top-40 television and signed almost immediately to a major.
Down under, bands like the Birthday Party and the Go-Betweens were considered
underground – but definitely not the Church. But in other sections, other bands
hardly merit a mention, and non-musical events (which surely have as much
influence on the Church as other bands) don’t even make a ripple.

 

And yet while Lurie’s fan-hood
never completely disappears, the intensity of his contact with Kilbey, the
immersion in detailed research eventually transforms his love for the Church
into a less mystical kind of experience. “In getting that access, I too had
traded something away: the all-consuming passion, the fanaticism that had so
animated my teenage and early adult interests in this band,” he says. “The
understanding that my favorite band was comprised of complicated and fallible men,
rather than gods, came as both comfort and inspiration.” Er, yeah, and
also as breaking news.

 

Super fans will love this book,
but I’m not sure it will win The Church many new converts.