"STARFISH," THE Church's wispiest album, was also the Aussie quartet's American breakthrough, and so the reprise of the same sound (and the same producer, L.A. session guitarist Waddy Wachtel) on the new "Gold Afternoon Fix" is presumably intentional. It's hard not to suspect, though, that it's also a result of Church songwriters Steve Kilbey, Marty Willson-Piper and Peter Koppes's saving their snappier material for their frequent solo efforts. The album's moody textures reward repeated listenings, but for every "You're So Beautiful," a song with an actual melody, or "Grind," a song with an actual groove, there are several that live up to titles like "Disappointment," "Transient" and "Fading Away."
On "Swagger," their first major-label album, the Blue Aeroplanes retain elements of their indie-label eccentricity. "The Applicant" is a musical setting of a Sylvia Plath poem, for example, and dancer Wojtek Dmochowski is still listed among the English septet's lineup. The surging guitar-army sound of such classic Aeroplanes songs as "Gunning the Works," however, has been replaced by a tidier, more controlled style somewhat reminiscent of Dire Straits. The results are listenable, but they lack the expansive power of the best of the band's back catalogue. Even "Cat-Scan Hist'ry," the magnum opus that closes the album, barely lifts off.