Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times. Shakespeare was born on April 23rd (supposedly) and died on April 23rd. One of the most celebrated figures in sports wore the number 23. There is an entire realm of study devoted to the enigma of 23, the belief that most incidents are somehow related to that one specific number. The Jim Carrey movie, The Number 23, explores the seeming omnipresence of the number once one pays attention. It is rumored to be one of the powerful numbers of the Illuminati, the super-secret organization that tends to be the easy answer for the impetus behind every major event. And 23 is, of course, one of the six mystical and seemingly cursed numbers on Lost. My point is, that whether you believe in fate, or free will, or coincidence, or simple mathematical theory, there’s no denying that there is a lot of evidence supporting 23 being a fairly important number.
Untitled #23 is the name emblazoned on the cover of the Church’s latest album, and by their admission, it is actually their 23rd album (though how they’re getting to that number, both AllMusic and Wikipedia don’t seem to know as their counts are off). Regardless of the actual count, the Church has been recording music since 1980, which means that in a few short months, they will have been making music together for three full decades! While there are a handful of bands out there who have been playing that long, or perhaps even longer, the Church seem to be in a much smaller group of acts who have remained steadfastly true to their musical ideals. With this latest, powerfully and perhaps not so coincidentally numbered album, the Church has by all accounts created something as mystical and engaging as any release in their long and varied history.
The Church has never made a bad album. When one sticks to their artistic vision through generations of change or appearing and disappearing fads, you can’t really go wrong. And while U2, one of the Church’s contemporaries, forming just four years prior, has slowly dipped their toes into the realm of Jock Jams, the Church has knelt, ever sacrosanct, at the altar of psychedelic guitar rock, yet allowing themselves the freedom to explore new harmonic realms and sonic techniques along the way. “Deadman’s Hand” and “Happenstance,” with their swirling lead and rhythm guitars backing Steve Kilbey’s unmistakable and hypnotic vocals are testament to my claim that the Church have outdone themselves. Kilbey’s whispered opening line of “On our way to crush the revolution” from the former makes me think that they’re well aware of the irony behind a resistance to major change being itself a revolutionary stance. Or maybe that’s just my interpretation.
“Space Saviour” is a particular favorite of mine from the new album, beginning with a harmonic little guitar line, subsequently building both musically and vocally into a massive anthem. With this one song, the Church have shown U2 the music they should have continued making since the mid to late ’80s. Until this album, I had never really noticed the similarities between Kilbey and Bono’s voices. One can easily tell the difference between the two, but songs such as “Space Saviour” and “On Angel Street” definitely highlight some of the likenesses. “Sunken Sun” is another favorite, which makes me think maybe there’s as much power in the letter `S’ as is there is in the number 23. Hazy and ethereal, the lyrics of “Sunken Sun” are just as eerily complex in their simplicity as the underlying music, and as engaging as some of my favorite Church tunes of the past.
One can argue the different reasons for the Church’s longevity, and now also the reason the Church has made a stellar 23rd album. Whether one believes in the power of the number in question becomes somewhat irrelevant when one looks at the recent history of the band. Recording the music they want to play on independent labels has freed the band. Two recent solo albums, by `band leaders’ Steve Kilbey and Marty Willson-Piper, showcased two distinct talents that when reformed become something even greater. Maybe it took that time apart to explore and come back refreshed to make a memorable album. Then again, maybe there really is something to numerology.