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Originally released in 1982, The Blurred Crusade, the second album from the Church, takes the guitar-heavy new wave sound of its debut Of Skins and Heart and reshapes it, beginning the process of evolution into what would become the Church’s sonic signature. The first major difference is in the singing; Steve Kilbey has modulated his thin baritone into the relaxed croon that is his signature sound, and the lack of strain improves his vocals immensely. The second is that the band reins in its youthful energy, not to diminish its power, but to focus it, resulting in more evenly-paced, steady performances. New drummer Richard Ploog is less of a basher than original skinsman Nick Ward, more versatile and nimble. Guitarists Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper (who uses a 12-string as his main axe at this point) mesh even better as a guitar team, sounding as if they’re adapting the tactics of Television tag team Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd to the Byrds‘ elegiac folk rock. Fresh from working with the Rolling Stones, big time producer Bob Clearmountain gives the band a clear, crisp sound without running roughshod over its creative instincts. (That would happen on the next record at the hands of a more respected producer.)
The one-two pop punch of “Almost With You” and “When You Were Mine” open the record with the most explicit recollection of the fizzy power pop of the first LP, but trades the youthful exuberance for a keener sense of craft. “Just For You,” the brief “Don’t Look Back” and “To Be In Your Eyes” add more acoustic guitars for lush, irresistible midtempo folk rock that’s beguiling in its casual melodic flair. “Field of Mars” features Willson-Piper’s lead vocal debut on a spacey ballad that sounds like it really is being beamed in from the titular planet. “A Fire Burns” boasts an unusually muscular guitar crash, almost as if the band was subverting the Aussie hard rock tradition by filtering it through its own sensibility.
Most significant, though, are “An Interlude” and “You Took,” the two group-composed efforts. Up to this point Kilbey wrote nearly all the material solo, though the individual musicians certainly were allowed to imprint their own personalities. But “An Interlude,” a jangled journey into the inner/outer space dichotomy in which the band would soon become comfortable, and “You Took,” a perfectly composed and arranged epic anthem, sound truly like the products of a group mind – you can really hear the Church’s sonic aesthetic taking shape on these tunes. Indeed, “You Took” stands as a high-water mark in the band’s catalog to this day.
The new edition adds a pair of B-sides. The instrumental “The Golden Dawn” is entertaining but fairly inconsequential, at times sounding like the band has been listening to a little too much Alan Parsons Project. But “Life Speeds Up” is fantastic, a long track that begins as a punky pop tune and evolves into a dynamic anthem with soaring lead guitar and an almost casual ability to fill a stadium with sound. Both tunes enhance an already strong record, one that holds up as one of the very best in the Church’s long, fruitful catalog.
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