The Church – Of Skins and Heart

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

A massively underrated band that nonetheless should have probably stopped recording many albums ago, the Church had as strong a run in the 80s (into the 90s) as any other band I can think of. I thought Marty Willson-Piper was one of the coolest human beings alive, and I was saddened to read that the band continued without him. I have never seen the Church live, and I refuse to at this point if Willson-Piper isn’t playing. One of the few Australian bands I listen to, also (not because I have anything against Australians, I’m just saying that’s how things have worked out).

What I Think of This Album

This is an odd early document, not really representative of the Church, but with some great songs and big hints of what they would become. Neither Liverpool transplant Marty Willson-Piper nor Peter Koppes has fully come into their own as guitarists, and Steve Kilbey’s songwriting is patchy; too, the band hasn’t adopted the elements of psychedelia they would be known for yet.

Even so, poppy “For A Moment We’re Strangers” is not far from classic Church, with a psychedelic vocal echo effect, some chiming riffs, and Kilbey’s smoky, mysterious vocals. The outstanding, drama-filled “The Unguarded Moment” is arguably the album standout, with its propulsive beat, multiple thrilling guitar parts, excellent harmony vocals, and bewildering lyrics. I really hate the drum fill at :55 that Nick Ward throws in. Kilbey co-wrote this song with Michelle Parker, his spouse at the time, but you wouldn’t know that from the liner notes. “Don’t Open the Door to Strangers” is an excellent piano ballad (with a sighing guitar part) that I can’t help thinking the Cars would’ve taken to the top of the charts; the Church never sounded like this again. Those are the undeniable highlights.

“Chrome Injury” is almost power-pop, and quite good (though it falters at points), with a spiraling guitar part and handclaps (!). “Bel-Air” is also enjoyable, though it sounds a little conventional. “Is This Where You Live” starts to approximate later Church – almost eight minutes of exploration – but the melody is lacking.

After that, things are not great. There is a post-punk feel to “Memories in Future Tense,” a sound the band returned to a few times over the next couple of albums but then dropped for good. Meanwhile, “She Never Said” is sort of a dark new wave track – like very early Talking Heads if they all had been bitten by a Redback spider. There are winning moments to “Fighter Pilot . . . Korean War” but the union between the melodic part and the artsy, moody, self-conscious part doesn’t work at all.

This album was released in 1981 in Australia. It was then released in the US in 1982 under the title The Church, with resequenced songs, tracks removed, and other tracks added from the “Too Fast For You” single (with new drummer Richard Ploog). Arista then rereleased the original album – with the “Fast” tracks appended – in 1989; this is the version I own. As it happens, “Too Fast For You” is fantastic, with a more typical Church sound in the vocal melody and guitars. The remaining songs from the single are fine but nothing special – the band was still finding its way.

This album was produced in part by Bob Clearmountain (mixer of Springsteen, the Stones, the Pretenders, Roxy Music, the Clash, and the Cure singles and albums).

The Best Thing About This Album

The best songs here are basically of equal quality. I guess “The Unguarded Moment,” but honestly, not with any passion because it means I am NOT choosing “For a Moment We’re Strangers” or “Don’t Open the Door to Strangers,” or, if you count it, “Too Fast For You.”

Release Date

April, 1981 (Australia); 1989 (proper US release)

The Cover Art

Meh. I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it. I take that back . . . I hate the all lowercase.

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