Every serious fan of music has a handful of favorite artists who, despite consistently creating stunning music, somehow miss the success they deserve. The Choir is one such arrow in my quiver. Over the past twenty years they have pushed the envelope of what is possible in music, had once come within inches of a deal with Geffin Records, and continually inspire bands who are both less talented and more successful than themselves. Never Say Never is a box set containing their first nine studio albums plus a 100 page book detailing their Spinal Tap-ish history and complete lyrics, all for about $60. They never were in this business to get rich. The band first recorded in 1985 and admittedly, their first two albums are a sonic reflection of their times. The third album is better but their producer wasn't doing them any favors. For their fourth album, Chase the Kangaroo, they took over complete control and recorded in their own studio. They unearthed their sound and their sonic palette exploded. The guitars became dark and monolithic, drenched in reverb, the lyrics honest, probing, enigmatic spiritual quests where there were no easy answers. The songs sprawled outside their three-minute radio-friendly boundaries, becoming adventures unto themselves. The Choir followed this disturbing masterpiece with a perfect pop album, Wide-Eyed Wonder which manages to celebrate the recent additions to their families without becoming trite or saccharine. The band returned to their swirling wall of sound in Circle Slide, an album of sadness, joy, pain and beauty, of longing for a tree of one's own on which to hand a tire swing. With Kissers and Killers the band traded in their clean reverb for powerful distortion and feedback while retaining their signature pop melodies. Lyrics that marry violence with love ("Before you kill me honey recognize / I'm you're one way rumbling ride through yellow skies") twist their way through the fuzzed-out morass of guitar. Dreamy nighttime soundscapes typify Free Flying Soul, their last studio in this collection. Clean whirling guitars smash headlong into brash distortion as the oblique lyrics follow suit, ending with "The Warbler" which is both comforting and chilling. Difficult, challenging and worth every second, this album crawls under your skin and haunts your every waking moment. Of course, what is a retrospective box set without unreleased material? How about over an hour of unreleased material including two new songs, early demos, and other rarities? Sure $60 is a lot to plunk down on a band you may have never heard of, but this is eight discs full of incredibly inventive, melodic, lyrical music. It's impossible for me to pick a favorite album because each one is such a strong release and worth of a full review. It is equally difficult to pigeonhole their style… but here goes: take parts of The Church, My Bloody Valentine, U2, Radiohead, and four inventive minds, blend in rock, pop and true alternative (for they are ever forging new ground, always outside the mainstream) and pour into a chilled goblet of arcane, perplexing yet intelligent lyrics and enjoy. Search Fort Wayne for these classic albums if you dare or head straight to www.thechoir.net and satisfy your musical gullet.
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, September 2001.