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4 star review of Starfish Print E-mail
Friday, 01 April 1988

Good review of Starfish, though starting with conspiracy theories about band breakups and hidden references in solo albums. Something not mentioned in other sources, I think, is that the album cost $300,000 to make, though record company accounting is "creative", to say the least. Possibly from Australian Rolling Stone?


 

Distance and speed have left us too weak
My destination looks kind of bleak...
Our elements have burnt out...

      -"Destination"

The clues are everywhere, if only you go looking for them. Not unlike the Beatles' 'hidden' references to Paul McCartney's supposed death, the Church have recently left a trail of suggestions that would have any sleuth predicting that their end is nigh.

Steve Kilbey, lead singer and bass player, is the main offender here. in the two years since the Church's last album, Heyday, Kilbey has released three solo albums, and had a book of poetry published. His most recent release was the album, The Slow Crack - the title being a thinly disguised reference to his drifting apart from the band. [SC: In other reviews, Steve has reported a more direct inspiration for that title: his house was subsiding and developed a crack. The builder who took a look described it as a "slow crack". Steve collects little poetic phrases like this (i.e Priest=Aura from a Spanish girl's school work), so that's another explanation for you.]

Guitarist Peter Koppes contributed to the mystery, with the release of his single "A Requiem" b/w "When Reason Forbids." While fellow guitarist Marty Willson-Piper left his clue with a solo album, In Reflection.

Starfish, however, is here to dispel any thoughts of impending doom for the band, and indicates that these solo releases have rejuvenated the seven year old Church. Not that your are going to find any real revelations in Starfish, which, to this critic, is one of the album's biggest surprises. I was expecting the album to be more influence by the atmospherics of the member's solo work than it is. Rather, it's very much a 'traditional' Church rock & roll album - but that's certainly not a bad thing.

Recorded in Los Angeles, produced by the legendary 'west coast' session musicians, Greg Ladanyi and Waddy Wachtel, Starfish continues the Church's mostly linear progression, which has now stretched over five albums, and three mini-albums. Starfish builds particularly on the ground-work that the band laid on Heyday in 1986. Heyday saw the band functioning totally as an ensemble. Prior to that album, the Church relied heavily on Steve Kilbey to write the whole song. Yet with Heyday the band began writing the music, working out the arrangements as a unit. This resulted in more dynamics, and the Church have, for the most part, worked this method again. And it has paid dividends.

Ladanyi and Wachtel haven't tampered with the Church, so much as they've enhanced their appearance. The mixture of the accessible, and esoteric, that is the Church at it's best, still prevails. Their trademark jingle-jangle has turned a little more electirc, strongly underpinned by Kilbey's mancing bass, giving them the decidedly English twist that sets them apart from so many other guitar bands.

The real heart of Starfish lies in it's songs, and the assured swagger with which they are performed. The Church have rarely come up with such an even-balanced, coherent set of songs. The album's first single, Under the Milky Way is classic dreamy pop - with it's acoustic intro moving into an alluring sexual throb. Destination pushes into the ethereal, yet is fused with an earthy rock punch. Kilbey renders Blood Money with a nonchalant venom, and does Dylan better than Bob has for years, on Antenna. The band works etremely well with a wall-of-sound mix on "New Season". The only track that fails to convince is Willson-Piper's "Spark" which is lost under it's rockiest overtones.

Coming at a cost of almost $300,000, Starfish is an album that should open the Church up to a wider audience. Yet as is their ambivalent way, they'll pursue sucess, while steadfastly avoiding stardom:"The pursuit of adulation is your butter and your bread / It's an exquisite corpse / and it's lips are red / and it's teeth are glistening" (Lost)

The Church have often been accused of repetition, and in many ways those accusations are reinforced here. But too many people fail to understand what the church are about. They are a band that moves in small steps, gently redefining their sound, and subtly shifting their emphasis, as they go. Starfish is a most welcome chapter in their journey.

John O'Donnell.

Transcribed by Brian Smith

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