David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 257: The Church (Grind)

June 4, 2023

For a few years in the late 1980s and into 1990, my favorite band, hands down, was The Church. "Under The Milky Way," their only charted hit in the United States, as well as Starfish, the near perfect album "Under The Milky Way" was on, sent me down a path of buying previously released Church material and jumping without hesitation to buy the next albums to come. That next album after Starfish was 1990's Gold Afternoon Fix, and while it provided more of a fix to my addiction than all of those older Church albums, its inconsistencies suggested to me that my addiction might need to be fed elsewhere.

Gold Afternoon Fix had songs equal to Starfish ("Metropolis," "City," and "Grind," most notably); however, it had too many not equal to Starfish that made my fascination start to wane. Ultimately, that is too bad, because the closing number, "Grind" was pretty close to a perfect song in my book: music mirroring lyric.

Musically, it weaves the textured guitars of Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper, along with a lovely interlude of Steve Kilbey keyboards as a bridge in the song. At 6:00+ minutes, it came across as a grind in the way many Church songs did. Foregoing typical instrumentation patterns (what might be called the solo). most Church songs featured a relentless melody that ear-wormed into your head. (They most famously achieved this on "Reptile," my all-time favorite Church track, defined by its lengthy musical rattle of a rattlesnake.)

Lyrically, "Grind" is about the way we have to grind through life, protagonist in a bar drinking to get through another day, fighting sinking emotions, singer wondering "why you've not resigned," a line most of us can probably identify with, especially professionally. "Push off the top," sings Kilbey, to "cause sustain forever" (another fantastic blend of musical idea with non-musical idea). It's a song both personal, but also cultural, challenging the changing (and soon to be ending) 20th century with the repeated "long distance century buzzes and fades," an apt metaphor for the new kind of technologies that would define the 21st century.

And through it all everyone keeps grinding it out, just trying to survive to the next day: Initially, "you've got to grind, grind it out," the next time, "we've got to grind, grind it out," eventually "they've got to grind, grind it out," but by the end it is "I've got to grind, grind it out."  Even that wonderful repetition of "grind" each time is a testament to grinding.

I can't tell you how many times that line has woven its way into my brain. A difficult work assignment: "you've got to grind, grind it out, Dave." A long window of time between seeing the person you love: "grind, grind it out." Frustrations at home: "I've got to grind, grind it out." Sitting in a traffic jam: "we've got grind, grind it out, all." Every day is a grind and anyone who doesn't see that as a core characteristic of being human is kidding himself or herself. At least The Church (maybe the other one, too) can bring beauty to the daily grind.

Yet, members of The Church don't have fond memories of this album, and for Marty Willson-Piper, especially, this song. At his excellent website, Willson-Piper writes, "I cringe every time I hear 'Grind,'" then proceeds to describe the dynamics of the band, the recording, and working with producer, Waddy Wachtel. "Grind" is one of the songs where Richard Ploog was not used for his drumming, but instead Wachtel employed a new drum machine that produced a beat "in perfect time but with awful clumsy drum rolls that sounded sonically flat." For Willson-Piper "Grind" is the metaphor, literally, for all that was wrong: "wrong drugs, wrong city . . . wrong songs and wrong direction."

This is all probably very true, and artists have the right to dislike some of their final products, but Marty, I would say your story about why making the song sucked is exactly to the point of "Grind." "You've got to grind, grind" the song out, and thankfully you did, because the dissatisfaction of the band might somehow be picked up in the final production. In Willson-Piper's wonderful blog on the making of Gold Afternoon Fix (details below), you feel the band's grind following "Starfish" and get a better idea why the magic may never be captured again (I think they did do that for one album, Hologram of Baal, in 1998).

Yet, what was captured in "Grind" was magic perhaps exactly because the song was a burden for its creators. Ain't that the great thing about art; suffer and produce good work that still brings pain whenever the artist has to relive it.

Willson-Piper, Marty. "Gold Afternoon Fix." martywillson-piper.com. October 2011. Retrieved May 26, 2023.

The Church. "Grind." Gold Afternoon Fix. Arista, 1990. Link here.

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See complete list here.