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on February 21, 2001
Anyone who's seen The Church live knows that, no matter how dark, experimental or ambient their latest CDs might be, they remain a lively and energetic rock band in concert. Fans of rock guitar have not lived until they've seen the intricate interplay between guitarists Marty Willson-Piper and Peter Koppes. And Steve Kilbey's warm, inviting, speak-sing vocals are vastly underrated in the annals of rock history.
Surprisingly, The Church have never released an official live album that captures this energy - unless you count the bonus screwing-around-in-the-studio disc included in the import version of 1998's HOLOGRAM OF BAAL. Until they do, fans will have to settle for A BOX OF BIRDS, an album of covers that, unlike their highly-produced studio CDs, is basically a one-off recording where the band plows through a few of their favorite numbers. The result is one of their most energetic recordings in years.
You may ask - why would I want to buy another CD of cover songs? Well, for one, the songs featured here are generally obscure (at least for casual music collectors). And most end up sounding like Church songs in the end. Like on HOLOGRAM OF BAAL, the songs are enveloped in droning, trance-inducing soundscapes (nearly all guitars or guitar effects) that have become the Church's trademark. Most of the songs bleed into one another, giving the listener an almost cinematic experience.
Unfortunately, The Church couldn't have picked a worse leadoff track than "The Faith Healer," which stretches a dull, monotonous guitar riff to the limit. But all is well on Track 2, with the sunny, psychedelic guitar blast that is George Harrison's "It's All Too Much" (from YELLOW SUBMARINE). Steve Kilbey has claimed that Harrison was his favorite Beatle, and the band's love for this song is obvious.
The surprises keep on coming as The Church pulls Ultravox's "Hiroshima Mon Amour" out of mothballs. A song that could have sounded horribly dated by another band is pumped to life here by muscular guitar cords that erupt underneath the unapolegetically new-wave sounding synths.
But it is the next two songs that represent perhaps the best one-two punch in The Church's entire back catalog. "The Porpoise Song" by The Monkees (!) is simply stunning, with lofty, shimmering guitars that make you feel like you are slowly being pushed out to sea. But this calm is disrupted as the song bleeds into the disturbing "Decadence." Like "The Faith Healer," the song is built largely around a single guitar riff. But this time, the effect is much more disturbing as the gentle riff builds to a freak-out climax akin to "Chaos" from PRIEST=AURA, accompanied by Kilbey's increasingly desperate vocals. On any other album, this would be a fitting climax.
Where do we go from here? Essentially two faithful renderings of Iggy Pop's "The Endless Sea" and Television's "Friction," the latter showing how much of an influence Tom Verlaine and company had on The Church. As for "All the Young Dudes" - well, to me this song should have been left out. It's one of those songs that is so well known that it makes little sense to cover it unless you're adding something new. But The Church play it straight, with Marty Willson-Piper's vocals on the chorus sounding slightly awkward when compared to the source.
But again, all is well with Hawkwind's "Silver Machine," a glam/metal blast that showcases a loose, sleazy attitude I've never heard from The Church, or Kilbey's vocals in particular. Finally, the album wraps with Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer," which has been highlighted by many of Young's fans as one of the best covers ever done of this song.
Overall, this CD showcases another side of this vastly underrated band. But while it did nothing to reverse The Church's commercial misfortunes, it is quite simply a great rock record that shows that, even in their 40s, these guys may be starting a new and influential chapter in their long careers.
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on October 14, 1999
the church, a band who used to record solely original material, has recorded a covers album. usually this means that they lack original things to say, or that they are over-the-hill. not in this case. the creations of sound using the majestic guitar work of guitarists Kopps and Wilson-Piper; alongside with Bassist-Singer Steve Kilby's great presentation, give a new meaning to the term "interpretations". they re-create the songs giving them new meanings. sometimes they alter the whole arrangement ("Porpoise song"), other times they stick to the original production ("Friction"), either way, the album is a whole masterpiece in sound, and is definatly one of the greatest cover-albums ever, and can be ranked as another achievement by this great band.
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Terrific production and unusual song selections allow this covers album to stand out from the crowd. Only the Church would cover both the Beatles and the Monkees. Pop music heaven. I'd go on a little longer but Josh informed me that I'm running off at the mouth.
Highly recommended. While you're at it pick up the remastered version of Heyday with bonus tracks.
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on August 17, 2004
Terminally underrated band records an album of covers. Which would be unremarkable in itself, but this is the Church. They don't perform the covers so much as insinuate themselves into them until they possess them. Example in point: the opener, "The Faith Healer," which was played pretty broadly by originator Alex Harvey, becomes frankly creepy and strange in the Church's hands. Goffin and King's "The Porpoise Song," is known to most people as a Monkees song. Here, The Church make it an opiated, languorous gem. "It's All Too Much" is entwined with walls of flowing feedback, with added quotes from Eddy Grant's "Electric Avenue" and The Pretty Things' "Sorrow" thrown in over the jam at the end. "Friction" is very faithful to the original. I wish they had made it more their own, but it is a good cover. The same is true of "All the Young Dudes," but on Hawkwind's "Silver Machine" they redeem themselves by attacking the song with abandon. The closer, Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer," is opulent and fierce, replacing Young's ragged wastedness with a disorienting haze that somehow hones the sharpness of the lyrics.

Overall a very fine album. "Box of Birds" should not be mentioned in the same sentence with most cover albums. In many ways it stands by itself as a great example of what the Church are capable of.
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VINE VOICEon May 20, 2015
As much as I used to keep up (religiously) with all Thirsty Ear label releases, I simply do not remember this must-own all covers CD by The Church. Every one of these ten tracks are a true winner. I especially enjoyed their George Harrison song "It's All Too Much", as their Gerald Goffin / Carole King-penned Monkees best-ever psych tune "The Porpoise Song", their homage to Ken Ayers (Soft Machine) with "Decadence", one that certainly never expected - a Television cover - "Friction", The Church's very decent tribute to the almighty Hawkwind with "Silver Machine" and the eleven-minute Neil Young gem "Cortez The Killer". Almost forgot to praise their Iggy Pop cover "The Endless Sea" - off his 'New Values' lp - when was the last time you heard that song? Essential.
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on September 8, 1999
This CD is an excellent mixture of cover tunes done in ways that only the Church could have done. The band sounds better than ever. Gone is the horrible muddyness that plagued "Hologram of Baal". These recordings are crisp and clear. My personal favorite tracks are "Faith Healer", "It's All Too Much", "Hiroshima Mon Amour", "Decadence", "The Endless Sea", and "Cortez the Killer". Yeah, I know that's almost all of the songs... but what can I say? Listening to this CD, you almost forget that these songs are covers. Steve's singing is in top form, and Marty and Peter's guitars blend perfectly. My only complaint about the Church these days is that when they do tour the US, they never come to Phoenix!
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on October 4, 2008
A Box of Birds is a variable, but mostly fine collection of covers by the venerable Aussie band The Church. I've read the vibe described as "neo-psychedelia" -- very apt! My favorites are "It's All Too Much" (The Beatles) and definitely "Cortez the Killer" (Neil Young).
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on September 17, 1999
The beauty and genius of this album of "cover" versions is the choice of songs. These pieces were obscure enough to be generally unknown, and yet classic enough to recognised immediately. The Church have colllected these odd birds and breathed new life into each and transformed them into something that will remain theirs forevermore. The Church's performance on this album seems more cohesive than ever. This is a must for both Church fans and lovers of rock'n'roll, and is highly recommended. Pure audio ecstacy!
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on January 18, 2000
I had not followed The Church in several years, even though I really enjoyed one of their concerts. I bought this album just to see how they would actually cover some of these tunes...it was a wonderful surprise....their version of "Cortez the Killer" is the best interpretation of a Neil Young song I have ever heard. However, this CD is best experienced as a whole from start to finish and be sure to turn up the volume....
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on November 4, 1999
This is a very fun album to listen to. My 5 yr old son recently got hooked on 'Yellow Submarine' and he loves listening to both versions of 'Its All Too Much', which is my favorite on this one, as well as 'Hiroshima..' and 'Friction'. Ive been a fan since their first album and this is a great addition to my CD collection. They make every song their own. Buy It, Request It, call your radio stations to PLAY IT!
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