The Church – Starfish

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 5)

I’d like to know about the decisions behind the recording of this album. The Church were still a relatively unknown band at this time, and had a poor history with US record labels, but nonetheless someone paid good money to have the band record with L.A. veterans Waddy Wachtel (Warren Zevon) and Greg Ladanyi (Fleetwood Mac, Jackson Browne). I suppose it paid off, as the album was the breakthrough the band deserved, though apparently they chafed at Wachtel and Ladanyi’s approach. This is the album most people are familiar with, and that’s fine, but there is so much more great Church out there.

What I Think of This Album

It’s understandable why “Under the Milky Way” was a hit – the bagpipe sound (apparently composed with an ebow but recorded with a synthesizer – played by the inimitably named Awesome Welles) has a particular novelty value – but the truth is it is not even remotely the best song on this album. That honor goes to the insidious “Reptile” with its, yes, snakey, guitar line and its vibraslap (admittedly more of a novelty than the bagpipe sound). And “North, South, East and West” also tops it, with an impressive descending guitar line and lots of chiming guitars throughout, though I will entertain argument about this one; Steve Kilbey’s deadpan vocal on the chorus is slyly wonderful.

I swear to god that the tough, riffy, emphatic “Spark” (also way better than “Milky Way”) sounds a *lot* like Dramarama – A LOT, motherfucker – if they had been a Paisley Underground band. Marty Willson-Piper and John Easdale’s voices sit in the same pocket. The bridge alone is worth the price of admission. “Destination” is a stellar moody piece, with a nice piano part and excellent atmospherics – the swells at the end are supercool.

For what it’s worth, I think “Milky Way” is great, with a precise mix of twelve-string melody and keyboard support, as well as a sturdy bass line for a backbone, and Kilbey’s downcast vocals. Session veteran Ross Kunkel (Dylan, Stevie Nicks, Linda Rondstadt, Carole King) drums on this track, as Richard Ploog couldn’t nail the feel. Karin Jansson co-wrote the song with Kilbey.

The massed vocals on “Blood Money” are a nice touch, the drums are very boomy, and the solo is electrifying. For reasons I can’t really explain, the intro reminds me of Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom (Coming Home)” even though the two don’t really sound anything alike. It’s just how my brain works. I have to admit that “Antenna” grows on me – I don’t care for the beginning but then it develops nicely. “A New Season” brings more of the psychedelic element than the earlier tracks, with some fine drumming. And it must be said that “Hotel Womb” (those wacky Australians) is very strong.

Greg Kuehn of TSOL (!) played keyboards on this album, and David Lindley (Warren Zevon, Curtis Mayfield, Leonard Cohen) plays the mandolin on “Antenna.” 

The Best Thing About This Album

“Reptile” is the under-the-radar winner, though “Spark” is outstanding, too.

Release Date

April, 1988

The Cover Art

I like the font, but the band portrait format is boring as fuck.

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