The Church: Parallel Universe

[26 December 2002]

By Jeremy Schneyer

To be perfectly honest, I’ve never really understood the point of remix LPs. Presumably, when a band records a song in the first place, they get it the way they want it. Of course, there are loads of examples of bands being unhappy with the way a completed recording turned out, but I’m going to stick to my guns and say that if a band has a reasonable amount of time and money to put into a recording, that it’s going to end up pretty much the way they want it. So, then, why fuck with it? I mean, I guess this sort of thing could be amusing for engineers, and invariably necessary for collector scum, but for the rest of us, this sort of exercise is simply unnecessary and confusing.

Now, The Church are a band who have endured their share of critical slagging, especially in the last decade. Compared to classic records like Heyday and The Blurred Crusade, much of their ‘90s output was simply sub-par. Although records like Priest = Aura and Magician Among the Spirits sported a few decent songs each, more typical was the muddled mysticism of Hologram of Baal and the tremendously uninteresting Sometime Anywhere. However, the fortunes of the band seemed to be looking up, judging by the quality of last year’s After Everything, Now This, which amounted to the singular most interesting thing they’ve done since 1988’s phenomenal Starfish. However, Parallel Universe, although not a new album proper (it’s actually a two-CD collection: disc one is a collection of remixes, appropriately entitled Remixture, and disc two is a collection of previously unreleased material from the AENT sessions, entitled Mixture) has the effect of bringing the forward momentum that AENT promised to a screeching halt.

Although the band (and singer/bassist Steve Kilbey, in particular) have certainly been known to indulge their more experimental sides now and then, with atmospheric, ambient, instrumental LPs, and forays into much less pop-oriented material then they are generally known for, the material on Parallel Universe is simply redundant and pointless. For the most part, the record takes perfectly good songs from AENT, jumbles them up with glitchy beats and distracting sound effects, and invariably ends up with a product less distinctive, less interesting, and less craftsmanlike than what they started out with. Most of these remixes follow the same pattern: take the vocal from the original song and marry it to inferior, usually dub-influenced backing tracks. Steve Kilbey’s warm voice sounds out of place amongst all the cut-ups and DJ scratching, and the reworked basslines seldom carry the heft of his original compositions. None of the tracks represented here hold a candle to their original album incarnations—the remixing invariably robs the songs of their appeal, their personality, and their delicate beauty.

The only thing saving this collection from complete and utter worthlessness is the second disc. Now, it’s not as if this material is essential in any way, and in fact, it’s blindingly obvious why these six tracks were left off the much-superior AENT, but at the same time, when compared to the totally pointless Remixture disc, songs like “Espionage” and “Reward” do have a certain appeal. While those two songs are pretty much on par with some of the less interesting material from AENT, the better judgement of the band truly should have kept the remaining four tracks away from the ears of the listening public. “First Woman on the Moon” is 11 minutes worth of dreary ambience, and “There You Go” could quite literally be the least interesting song that the band has ever released. Completely devoid of any sort of hook or interesting musical device, the song basically amounts to five minutes worth of tuneless noodling, over which Kilbey speaks some vague lyrics in a disinterested monotone. “Twin Star”, while actually providing more aural interest than pretty much anything else on the record, simply boils down to the band’s ability to rip off the riff from The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and write a half-assed song around it. No great trick in that, I’m afraid.

When I interviewed Steve Kilbey earlier this year, he had some very unkind words to say about the band’s current label, Thirsty Ear. He stated in no uncertain terms that they were doing everything they could to get out of their contract with the label, and that if he had his way, that their next record would not come out on Thirsty Ear. Considering the fact that Parallel Universe is, in fact, out on Thirsty Ear, I can’t help but think that the utter paucity of worthwhile material on this collection is some act of sabotage by the band against a record label that they’re extremely unhappy with. Either that, or this release wasn’t the band’s idea at all, but simply a ploy by the record label to squeeze as much out of the band before they jumped ship. Either way, this is simply a useless release that does nothing but muddy the waters of The Church’s generally fine catalog.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/church-parallel/