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Steve Kilbey

Australia's The Church, with its 1988 cosmic masterpiece Starfish and Top 40 single "Under the Milky Way," stands among the best alt-rock bands. The rich interplay between guitarists Peter Koppes (the "technical" one) and Marty Willson-Piper (the band's emotional core) served The Church well over several unappreciated albums (Gold Afternoon Fix, Priest=Aura). But what of singer/bassist Steve Kilbey, whose existential, sci-fi-tinged lyrics offered so much pleasure? At 54, does he still wield magic?

Painkiller suggests he does. For those who love The Church's majestic pop, Kilbey's first solo effort in five years satisfies. "Wolfe," all symphonic edges, reminds us just how textured Kilbey's band could be. Whether you enjoy it with midnight headphones or during rush hour, Painkiller tastes sweeter than a strawberry-flavored codeine trip.

Willson-Piper, meanwhile, offers his own solo effort following a nine-year studio hiatus. Cracking the lid on Nightjar reveals timeless, guitar-centered popcraft, always evident on Church albums. Ballads like "No One There" shimmer in the brightness of 12-string guitars, even while Willson-Piper draws upon grittier folk and country influences on tracks like "A Game for Losers."

With a new Church CD due later this year, Kilbey and Willson-Piper offer excellent appetizers that shouldn't be passed over for the main course.

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