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Starfish gets four stars from Rolling Stone Print E-mail
Thursday, 21 April 1988

From http://www.rollingstone.com/reviews/album/_/id/119678

Also in print Rolling Stone April 21st 1988 pg 111. I just found a photocopied review with 3.5 stars on it, though. Wonder where I got the "four star" note from?

On the face of it, the high guitar priests of the Australian band the Church have been making pretty much the same record for nearly eight years – with twin guitars overlapping in crystal formations of pinging harmonics, staircase arpeggios and clarion twangs and singer-bassist Steve Kilbey's voice walking a thin line between a melancholy drone and an embittered hiss. Yet no two Church records ever actually sound alike. At its most compelling, the band scrambles the real and the surreal with ease, rattling its stately guitarchitecture with howling north-wind echo and the troubled undertow of Kilbey's enigmatic lyrics. It's like being in the middle of a recurring but constantly evolving dream where only the faces remain the same.

Starfish, the Church's sixth and best LP, is about the spaces between the faces and about the tensions that fill those spaces. "Our instruments have no way/Of measuring this feeling," Kilbey sings with edgy resignation in "Destination," heightening the icy picking of guitarists Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper with visions of musty old bones, stormy weather and "clapped-out swingers." "Blood Money" could be about nothing more sinister than a whore and her john ("She says, 'Why can't you get hard/Because you paid for this now in cold hard cash?'"), although the dripping sarcasm in Kilbey's voice and the metallic sting of the guitars hint that this sexual transaction has more to do with emotional piracy.

There is certainly a lot of betrayal ("Reptile") and dislocation ("Lost") on tap on this album. At times, it's hard to reconcile Starfish's richly appointed production – pillowy strumming, aqueous reverb, the sunshine blast of synthesized bagpipes in "Under the Milky Way" – with the negative energy charging some of these relationships. But it's the very contrast of otherworldly ambiance and sly baroque lyricism with the earthy erotic tug that lights up songs like "Hotel Womb" and Willson-Piper's "Spark." On "Hotel Womb" the urgent guitars stoke Kilbey's vocal despair like a "White Light-White Heat" for distraught young lovers.

What sets Starfish a notch above other distinguished Church hymnals, like 1986's Heyday and the 1982 import beauty The Blurred Crusade, is its remarkable musical unity and refined dramatic poise. "Under the Milky Way" is the closest the band has come to adapting its expansive guitar chorales to potential-hit-single form since "The Unguarded Moment," in 1981. The fun, though, is getting lost in those blurs. Starfish is an album that will disorient and fascinate; shaking its spell will not be easy. (RS 524)


DAVID FRICKE

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