Albums Revisited: The Church’s ‘Gold Afternoon Fix’ At 25-Welcome to the gilded cage. A look back at The Church’s underrated 1990 ‘Starfish’ follow-up.
By: Peter Marks
By the time 1990 rolled around The Church were at the peak of fame, they’d gotten high up in the charts with “Under The Milky Way” and ‘Starfish’ had sold well beyond anyone’s expectations.
For their label Arista there was no question as to what was to come next: more hits. The suits assumed that the band had now cracked a formula which would guarantee them continued sales and most importantly yet another revenue stream to suck dry.
Oh, but success would prove elusive for Steve Kilbey, Marty Willson-Piper, Peter Koppes and Richard Ploog with ‘Gold Afternoon Fix’ and their label ensured this from the get go by insisting their remain in Los Angeles and work with the same producer they’d used on ‘Starfish’. This was the fractured foundation upon which The Church were ordered to crank out another hat full of tunes.
The sessions were, by all accounts, tense. Ploog was eventually dismissed from the band by the time they were over and the already strained relations between the other members were exacerbated to the breaking point.
What a shock it would have been to know all this around the time the album came out but I was too busy being mesmerized by their hypnotic sounds. Yes, there are some tracks on here which could have done with a bit more work but given the immense pressure our heroes were under I’d say they came up aces. From across what sounded like a barren wasteland these thirteen tunes slowly unraveled in my ears and 25 years later still have not let go. The guitars sparkled, the bass seduced, the drums throbbed and the words remained absolutely timeless; the faithful so often tend to forget this one as it is sandwiched between two juggernauts in their discography and I’ve never quite understood that.
‘Gold Afternoon Fix’ is an elegant and solitary experience which reveals the myriad layers this band are renowned for only in the most recalcitrant of ways. On face value it appears they’re trying their damnedest to emulate previous work but it just isn’t so. “Metropolis” was pegged to be their breakout song, the one which would vault them into super stardom… listen to it and try to tell me that The Church had any intention of doing what was expected of them. The music is catchy enough but the words spoke volumes about where they were at:
“And it’s only a day away/We could leave tonight/You could sleep along the way/Dream in black and white/Back in Metropolis, circuses and elephants/Where the oranges grew/And back in Metropolis, nothing can ever topple us/When I’m standing with you”
No mansions or limos were going to come their way and they bloody well knew it, all that mattered was that they keep their nerve and not lose their way.
Some of my favorites from them are on this record as well, “Disappointment” being at the top of that list (editor’s note: I concur!). If you’ve ever been through the ringer in a relationship then there’s no mistaking where Kilbey is coming from with this one; it is an epic composition featuring one of the best solos I’ve heard from any rock band on Earth.
This entire album was imbued with a weary and cynical view of the world, even the color scheme chosen is a maudlin one. People often remark at how low-key songs such as “Monday Morning”, “Transient”, “Laughing” and “Fading Away” did a disservice to their chances at worldwide domination and to them I say: you’ve missed the point of this band entirely.
The Church do not make records or write songs for mass consumption, they really don’t care what the labels or the press have to say about them. This act do what they do because they must. It’s called being an artist and I suggest some of you more consumerist types try looking that word up sometime, maybe you’d finally acquire a soul.
Out on the road they came to my town and knocked me on my ass. At 16 years of age I wasn’t attuned enough to encounter this sort of gorgeous textural abandon at all. I still feel sorry for the Blue Aeroplanes who had to open for them because they really didn’t stand a chance. I suppose if I’d been older I would have noticed the looks they were giving each other on stage; the exhaustion comes through plain as day in the clips I’ve found of that tour online. Back then however, the only facet I was paying attention to was the sound. Dear god was it ever immense and though they still had stage wear to match their press photos they were growing tired of it. The limitations of the cage were becoming apparent.
They played songs on this outing I have yet to hear them revisit and I’ve read that they’re none too fond of what they made here but I don’t get why. There’s a DVD they put out recently of the tour and when their Arista run was reissued, this luminous release got a second disc of b-sides just like the others so what gives? Nothing they’ve done since has sounded anything like it, not that I’d want a repeat but man there are incredible pieces to be found within the vastness of ‘Gold Afternoon Fix’. Audiences now would be amazed.
When those opening notes to “Pharoah” slink out of my speakers the chills go right up my spine, the same goes for “Terra Nova Cain” exploding into its wickedly harrowing groove. The harmonies! The intricacies! It’s an atmospheric feast for the senses and there’s no limit on how many times you can load up your plate.
They made one incredible record here and now that it’s hit the quarter century mark perhaps the time has come to give it a spin and fall in love with it all over again don’t you think?