STARFISH

The 1980s are often remembered as the time of synth pop, but—in Australia, at least—this is misleading. The land Downunder brought forth excellent, world class guitar based bands… the maturing sound of Midnight Oil, the power pop exuberance of Hoodoo Gurus and the introspective guitar rock of The Church.

Formed in Sydney, The Church released their first album in 1981 (the highly regarded Of Skins And Heart) and by 1988 had relocated to Los Angeles to record for their new record company Arista. With veteran session musician Waddy Wachtel producing, the band created their cleanest-sounding and most successful album to date. The achievements of Starfish rode squarely on the back of iconic single “Under the Milky Way”, whose languid beauty and mystical confusion struck a chord with listeners worldwide.

A sense of place infuses these songs of displacement, movement and stasis in tension. The endless search for a place to belong; scanning the horizon, like Estragon and Vladimir, for an arrival that never comes. Opening song “Destination” powerfully introduces the theme… 

In the space between our cities, a storm is slowly forming

Something eating up our days, I feel it every morning

This is followed by The Church’s best known song, “Under the Milky Way”, whose frayed beauty leads to a refrain about searching, searching… only to find a galaxy of unknowns. It’s a powerful theme, that in “Lost” manifests as localised, internal confusion. Now hang up ’cause the lines are all crossed, you are so lost. Elsewhere, the sparkling guitar arpeggios of “North, South, East and West” underpin a sense of spatial bewilderment. And you might find me there, North and south and east and west. 

Perhaps this all sounds ambient, or at least, transient. Not so. “Reptile” is a multi-layered rocker while Marty Wilson-Piper’s “Spark” has plenty of what the lyric hopes for in the energised sound.

A rolling song in triple time, “Antenna” arcs back to the space between people while closing song “Hotel Womb” has a sense of hiding from the world, being safe from the dangers outside while a heartbreaking distance still separates the protagonist from the person physically closest to him. It also has some killer guitars. 

There’s a melancholy in the DNA of Steve Kilbey’s voice, narrating an atmospheric journey punctuated by piercing guitar breaks and uplifting choruses. That’s a fair summary of Starfish; deeply satisfying in its bemused dislocation while flexing strong musical muscles and demonstrating masterful craft. A starfish may reside anywhere from the ocean’s tidal zone to its darkest depths, yet here is an album anchored on earth, stretching towards the uncountable stars. We all live under the Milky Way, yet The Church beckon us to stretch with them, an invitation both persuasive and timeless. 

This article was originally published at Discrepancy Records on 17 December 2021.
It is re-posted here with kind permission

 

16 comments

  1. I had a friend who was a big fan and I have liked the bits I have heard.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was late coming to (the) Church, JAT, but better late than never, as they say. All souls saved by rock and roll.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    What stunning prose on display in your capture of the band, the sound and the time! Wow! A couple things: I seem to recall something funny about the music video for the Milky Way song. There’s a scene where someone cracks an egg in a skillet and an eyeball flips onto the pan. If I’m right about this, they went back and edited that out. And I always conjectured that’s on account of the image crossing some threshold for MTV, possibly too disturbing? Wonder if anyone recalls that or if I just imagined it. Another point, the band has so many albums right? A few years ago they did a tour where they played one song from like 20 different albums and that was the tour. Wow…I love their aesthetic and always feel like I need to take more time with the albums. You’re right about the melancholy in his voice and that may be what resonates most with me. Cheers Bruce great piece.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Bill. Very much appreciated. Yes, they are/were a prolific band. Album count at about 28 now, I believe. I don’t think I every saw the film clip you mentioned and confess to being a tad relieved about that! Unless, of course, the viewer’s own psychedelic state was in the mix somewhere? 🥴
      I’ve been meaning to grab a few more of the early albums in the bargain CD racks. Always good to have something to dig for.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. pinklightsabre · · Reply

        Heyday was the first one I heard (85) and has a killer record cover, speaking of covers (which we are always, aren’t we?). Good shoulder seasons music, for the perennial gleam and sense of being lost eh? Bye for now Bruce 👋

        Liked by 1 person

      2. pinklightsabre · · Reply

        The track “ It doesn’t change” from Seance was actually the first I heard, just went back to it and like WOW

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I absolutely loved this album when it came out and still do. “Under the Milky Way” is such a great tune that still gives me chills when I hear it. The sound of the entire album is outstanding!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s great Christian. And if you can get a hold of the Intervention Records 2021 re-issue, do! It’s a corker.

      Like

  4. I used to play in Church band with a guitarist who had opened for them. So I’m like two degrees of separation from Steve Kilbey.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fabulous. We’re all under the milky way. ⭐️

      Like

  5. Before I went fishing this was on the to do list. Im sitting on the bank and some crazy looking dude with a top hat on came floating by on a raft having a BBQ and handed me your take (and a well done hot dog). Good things keep coming my way. Love this record. Bought it when the cd rage was happening.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. May interesting characters offering snacks continue to float down your river, CB.

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  6. I certainly count myself among those for whom “Under The Milky Way” struck a chord back in the day. And Bill is correct: there is, indeed, an eyeball emerging from a cracked egg in the video! (https://youtu.be/pWxJEIz7sSA)

    P.S. I appreciated your nod to Mr. Beckett!

    Like

  7. That’s another fine Oz band that was new to me. Top-notch review, too. Thanks, Bruce.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. […] them their international breakthrough. Fellow blogger Bruce from Vinyl Connection had a great post about this gem a couple of weeks ago. When back in the day I heard the album’s first single […]

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