Steve Kilbey Sydney Rococo
Golden Robot Records
Like many American music fans around my age I didn't become aware of the Anglo/Australian band The Church until the release of their sixth album Starfish and the hit single "Under The Milky Way." I didn't become a fan of The Church until their follow-up Gold Afternoon Fix. That is the album where I jumped on and many who had discovered the band in the previous year quickly jumped off.
I had never heard anything quite like Gold Afternoon Fix, an album that infuriated their label Arista Records and caused a rift that saw the label find clever ways to cheat them and sabotage their career. (One story, told to me by a promotion person at BMG, involved the pressing of 10,000 copies of a promo single, which were immediately destroyed and charged to the band.)
Gold Afternoon Fix made me a fan and I set about acquiring their back catalog which had recently been reissued on CD to capitalize on their sudden, improbable, success. These albums — one of which was actually two EPs squashed together — were a trove of excellent, moody, jangle goth, which further cemented my interest.
I saw The Church play at the Wiltern Theater that year and learned two things:
With that, a large chunk of the audience sprang to their feet and I heard someone say "Sorry Steve!" Thankfully, I've never been that type of fan, not even with Robyn Hitchcock. I only stand at a gig if the power of the music sweeps me to my feet — or there are no chairs.
Their next album, the obliquely titled priest=aura, improved on the atmospheric formula of Starfish and Gold Afternoon Fix and stands today as their masterpiece albeit with not one single for A&R guys to promote, even with a packet of cocaine stuffed in the sleeve. It was, however, a stunning and immersive album from start to finish, both musically and lyrically.
The Church released one more album for Arista Sometime/Anywhere. Founding guitarist Peter Koppes had left, taking a lot of the atmosphere with him, and the remaining two members, Kilbey and 12-string guitarist Marty Willson-Piper, bowed out with a stripped down record of lovely songs that would never be heard on the radio.
With The Church seemingly over I investigated some of the solo albums Steve Kilbey had released. Albums like The Slow Crack, Earthed, Unearthed and Remindlessness all seemed to suffer from poor production and self-indulgence. Kilbey seemed to work better as a collaborator, as evidenced by his work with the late Go-Betweens songwriter Grant McClennan on the side-project called Jack Frost.
I was very fortunate to be able see Jack Frost perform as an acoustic duo, which was a delight until the encore portion where each of them were to perform a song from their histories. McClennan played "Cattle And Cane" while Kilbey struggled with the expectation that he sing "Under The Milky Way." After several fits and starts he clenched his guitar to his chest and walked away.
I had also checked out solo albums by Willson-Piper and Koppes which confirmed that the greatness of The Church was the sum of their parts. Fortunately, through the sheer force of will of Steve Kilbey, The Church persisted as a prolific Indie recording and touring act, with Koppes back in the fold and new permanent drummer/producer/engineer Tim Powles behind the kit and the controls
The Church's approach to writing an album is to jam. The four (now buoyed by guitarist Ian Haug who replaced the disinterested Marty Willson-Piper a few years ago) get in a room with tape rolling, plug in and blow for hours at a time. Kilbey reviews these jams and refines the best moments into songs utilizing his always intriguing lyrics.
Through these indie years I have remained an avid fan of The Church and have been rewarded with music from a band that have truly found themselves musically and just keep getting better.
Throughout this period I have largely ignored Steve Kilbey's many side projects based on past experience, but when I saw on Amazon that he had a new solo album set to release in the final month of a year that has been a bit disappointing on the musical front, I decided to give Steven Kilbey, solo artiste, one more chance.
In Sydney Rococo Steve Kilbey has made a solo album that seems to have benefited from his full attention. The songs are focused, beautiful, compelling, crisply arranged, played and produced and, to the ears of a layman friend of mine, sound like The Church. Well, not exactly. Though Kilbey provides the words, the voice and the musical impetus for The Church, Sydney Rococo bears little resemblance to the band's more recent output, which is rife with unidentifiable sounds and cosmic ambience
Eric Sandberg: My true opinion on everything is that it's splunge.