The Church – Starfish (30th anniversary edition) (album review)

The Church – Starfish (Deluxe Edition) (Second Motion) Album review

To celebrate the Church’s 30th anniversary, Second Motion has reissued the band’s entire back catalog featuring remastered sound and unreleased bonus tracks.

Theirs is one of the most unlikely stories in rock – the Church, who had little success outside their homeland of Australia, got signed in 1988 by the same man who was guiding Whitney Houston to superstardom, Clive Davis.  The label mogul must’ve seen something in the underground band, who had a penchant for psychedelic jamming, when he signed them to his Arista record company.

Even stranger was their choice of producers – Greg Ladanyi and Waddy Wachtel, two LA sessionmen who were coming off success with Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer.”  Not surprisingly, the match was not a harmonious one; the band constantly clashed with the producers.  Yet, from chaos beautiful things emerge.  The result was Starfish, the Church’s highest charting album.  The centerpiece of the record is the dreamy “Under the Milky Way,” a surprise hit in the spring of 1988.  With its swirling keyboards and odd bagpipe solo – it sounded like nothing else on the radio at the time.

Conflict or not, Starfish is the Church’s most-focused record.  Everything here works, from the swelling opener “Destination,” to the jangly “North, South, East, and West,” to the hypnotic “Reptile.”  But, where their previous albums contained layer upon layer of guitars, the producers chose to leave the tracks more sparse, and the result is an airiness not found on any other Church record, and it still stands up after all this time.  This 30th anniversary edition contains an entire bonus disc, featuring demos of songs that didn’t make the final album, but which are still quite good.  Of note is “Anna Miranda,” which contains the line “wish I knew what you were looking for” later used more effectively in “Under the Milky Way.”  There are also several acoustic versions of songs from Starfish.  For those who choose to purchase the physical CD version, you’re in for a real treat: the liner notes are written by Church guitarist Marty Willson-Piper. These are some of the most exhaustive and honest notes ever penned for a reissue like this.  Willson-Piper chronicles the circumstances surrounding this record and takes the listener track by track, giving the story behind each song, and his (sometimes brutally honest) opinions of each.  Even if you already own a copy of Starfish, there’s enough here to make it worth picking up again.  –Tony Peters