A ringing 12-string guitar introduction. A dreamlike lyric that seems to hold the cosmos in its hands. It’s still the most recognisable, covered and widely beloved song in the catalogue of a band that’s released a remarkable 26 albums.
And it’s 30 years old this year.
The song is Under The Milky Way, from The Church’s most successful album, the undisputed classic Starfish.
The sound of Starfish is open and uncluttered. That was a change for the band after the dense orchestrations of the previous album, Heyday. All 10 songs are individually memorable, yet speak to one other, making for an entirely cohesive, satisfying listening experience.
From there, the list of hits, band and fan favourites is long. Myrhh, which leader Steve Kilbey described in his memoir Something Quite Peculiar as the definitive Church song. Ripple, from the masterful Priest=Aura. Almost anything from 1982’s The Blurred Crusade.
Expect songs from Hologram of Baal, itself celebrating its 20th anniversary. And, of course, there’s The Unguarded Moment, the single that launched the band onto world stages on its release on its release in 1981.
But this is not just a nostalgia trip. The Church have been revitalised since 2014 with the addition of guitarist Ian Haug, formerly of another iconic Australian band, Powderfinger. Haug’s first outing with the band was on the acclaimed Further/Deeper, which yielded a new dynamic set-closer, the infinitely pyschedelic and earth shaking Miami.
Last year’s Man Woman Life Death Infinity strengthened the bond, cementing Haug’s place with long-time fans, as well as with the rest of the band: singer, bass player and songwriter Kilbey, fellow guitarist Peter Koppes and longtime drummer Tim Powles. “Ian is a big part of the band now,” Koppes says. “He’s a consummate, intuitive musician with fantastic tones.”
Koppes goes on to sum up the band. “Music is like inner space and we’re astronauts,” he says. It’s a spellbinding thing, it’s hypnotising. That’s why people like it. It takes them into another world and we’re here to open those doors.”
The Church’s strange journey remains an endless sea of possibilities. In 2018, it’s time for the band to celebrate one of their crowning glories, but always with an eye to the future. Further. Deeper. The Church truly are a rock band for the ages.