February 24, 2018 The Church – Starfish 30 Years Later
One of the pioneers and pillars of New Wave music in the land down under, the enduring The Church is also the most prolific. Since its formation in 1980, in Sydney, Australia, the band – currently comprised by Steve Kilbey (lead vocals, bass guitar, keyboards, guitar), Peter Koppes (guitars, keyboards, vocals), Tim Powles (drums, percussion, vocals, guitar), and Ian Haug (guitars, vocals) – has released 25 studio albums under its name – from 1981’s Of Skins and Heart to 2017’s Man Woman Life Death Infinity.
Soon after the unveiling of its debut album, the ’60s Psychedelic Rock–inspired New Wave purveyors had immediately shot to popularity in Australia’s local music scene. The strength of the single “The Unguarded Moment,” along with other songs from the album such as the shimmery “Is This Where You Live?;” the jangly and upbeat “Too Fast for You;” and the proto-Shoegaze ballad “Don’t Open the Door to Strangers,” predating the similarly styled 1988 song “Darklands” by The Jesus and Mary Chain, helped the music of The Church to trickle into Europe and the United States. However, Kilbey and his acolytes took seven years and four albums more and an international hit single before they could break through the tough and elusive U.S. market. Their success came with the release of Starfish, which turned 30 this month.
Released on February 16, 2018, on Mushroom Records in Australia and on Arista internationally, Starfish opened with the flickering, subtle, and subdued grace of “Destination,” which conjured an imagery of a vast space speckled with stars. This served as a perfect prelude to the song that catapulted The Church to stellar heights, the single that dominated the charts and which made the band an international phenomenon – the acoustic-oriented, shimmering ballad “Under the Milky Way,” which had further established Kilbey’s distinctive low-timbre, almost unintelligible hazy voice. The Church then reverted to their trademark angularity with the ensuing choppy-rhythmed “Blood Money.” Another contemplative ballad came next in the form of “Lost,” which found Kilbey and the rest of the band in their poignant predisposition.
The slightly metallic stomper “North, South, East, and West” then swirled and spiraled across the universe like a splinter of Dreampop supernova, aptly paving the way to the upbeat, celebratory big sound of “Spark.” Another nod to one of The Church’s sonic influences, “Antenna” strummed its jangly psychedelia like the birds and bells of Rhymney.
Another single culled from Starfish, “Reptile” then surged ominously with its bouncing and howling guitars and basslines that danced like horses, and then culminating in a wall of sound that served as a springboard for what became Shoegaze in the decade that followed. The penultimate track, “A New Season” brightened the hues and warmed up the seasons, exuding a psychedelic aura that would eventually be exhibited by certain guitar-oriented New Wave and Britpop bands in the late ’80s through the 1990s, particularly Primal Scream (“We Go Down Slowly Rising”) and Stone Roses (“I Wanna Be Adored”). Finally, The Church curled up Starfish with the pensive and meditative “Hotel Womb.”
The Church remain active to this day, in fact unleashing their 25th studio album only last year. So much has transpired between now and their humble beginning 38 years ago. However, the pinnacle of the Australian band’s career and creativity will always be the late ’80s, when they finally came out of the deep, blue land down under and soared the vast Milky Way on the strong arms of their fifth album. Ultimately, Starfish served not only as The Church’s portal to worldwide acknowledgment; it significantly became also a blueprint of the musical styles that were further developed in the 1990s by bands like Pale Saints (“Language of Flowers”), Ride (“Vapour Trail”), Chapterhouse (“Pearl”), Slowdive (“Some Velvet Morning”), and My Bloody Valentine (“Blown a Wish”). Give Starfish a commemorative spin and pay homage to The Church and this thirty-year-old sea-star beauty of theirs.
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