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25 years on: The Church “Starfish” appreciation thread / song-by-song review

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by 1970, Mar 1, 2013.

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  1. heyday2day

    heyday2day Forum Resident

    At the time I remember being very surprised at the success of UTMW. Partly because I had a hard time believing that the mainstream could actually have good taste and partly because it was so different to almost everything else getting radio play at that time. Like someone mentioned above, it had a very Blurred Crusade feel to it with the dominant acoustic sound.

    A lot of the band's hallmarks can be found in the track. A blissful melancholia, Kilbey's enigmatic lyrics (deep, without a meaning) and vocal style, that Byrdsian acoustic-electric sound, the ability to set a definite mood, place and time..... They had done stuff like this before that was mostly ignored (definitely ignored here). I've always kind of wondered what it is about UTMW that makes it "the one". I like the song but there are 4-5 other tracks on the album that I feel are better and like I already said, they had recorded more commercial tracks in the past so I've always kind of wondered why was it that UTMW became the hit?

    I'm not complaining and I'm happy that the band got at least an nth of the notoriety they deserved. As for the song itself, I've always enjoyed the middle and close, especially when the bagpipe hits that long, sustained note towards the end of the track. Lyrically, it's middle of the pack for a Kilbey song. My favorite couplet is the "I think about the loveless fascination, under the milky way tonight", the word loveless makes it a pretty interesting phrase. One of those that you can turn around and play with and come up with numerous meanings. Musically it's quite beautiful though not real complex, I enjoy how the acoustic guitars drive the track along.

    I remember living in a three bedroom apartment at the time with a couple of fraternity brothers when UTMW began to get play. They liked it, put it on their "love" tapes (trying to keep it clean and pc) and when I played them tracks like "Almost With You", "Just for You", "To Be In Your Eyes", "Electric", "It's No Reason", "Disappear?", etc, the "love" tapes became pretty much Church comps. Both became big Church fans.

    Didn't add much to the UTMW discussion but there you go.
     
  2. davers

    davers Forum Resident



    Agreed 100%! I love cool little understated guitar solos and the one in Blood Money is absolute perfection. ​

    Not to derail from the Starfish thread, but I saw the Church live on the next tour (Gold Afternoon Fix) and was blown away by the guitar interplay. In 36 years of concert attendence, that show stands among my all time favorites.​

    Starfish was my go-to album for several years in the late 80s and early 90s...it's really fun to revisit it in this thread.​


     
    1970 likes this.
  3. How bizarre that neither Wachtel nor Landyani recognized the potential of UTMW.
     
  4. davers

    davers Forum Resident

    I'm actually not surprised they weren't able to retain the larger fan base gained with Starfish. I think Starfish worked as a coherent whole in a way that was very hard to sustain on following releases...it's just that good. The entire album only has one song that I would ever think about skipping, and that's quite a feat.

    That's not to say I don't enjoy other Church material by a long shot...right up to their most recent release they are still very good.
     
  5. heyday2day

    heyday2day Forum Resident

    I agree that Starfish worked as a coherent whole. Gold Afternoon Fix, despite a handful of great tracks, felt scattered, rushed, less focused. It was one of their few near misses. Still, if your first exposure to the band was Starfish and you were one of those that loved the sound and vibe of that album, I don't think GAF was so wide of the mark to lose the numbers of fans that they did between SF and P=A.

    Not to disagree with you because it's all subjective but the band released numerous albums that were as coherent as a whole, like SF. Before SF, I feel Heyday was as strong front to back (tho' a much different sound-vibe) and so was Seance and Blurred Crusade. After Starfish, P=A, Hologram, After Everything Now This, Forget Yourself and Untitled 23 were, each in their own way, whole pieces. In fact, at least for me, I feel that's one of their biggest strengths and something that separates them from just being good into being great. As good as Starfish is, it's just one of several that has a definite feel from the first track to the last.

    Somewhat related, well Church related.... Since this thread started, I went and checked SK's blog today. Regarding the new Kilbey/Kennedy collaboration, here's part of today's blogpost

    one of the best records i have ever worked on
    you are everything
    i loved our first minimalist outing
    i thought our second one not quite so good as the first
    but this….this….this is a magnificent collection
    some people on here dont like me singing the praises of my other collaborators
    feeling like “the church is my main axe why dont i just stick to that”
    well as i said before
    due to many many issues technical personal financial etc
    there is no new church album
    there still may be one day but really i wouldnt wait for it if i was you
    i am telling you this new K/K album is as good as U23 as good as P=A
    and even better in some ways…

    For him to compare something to U23 and P=A (the two Church albums he is most proud of) surprises me a little. It would be very hard to beat either of those two albums.
     
  6. heyday2day

    heyday2day Forum Resident

    By the way Louis, this is-was a great idea for a thread. I'd love to see-do one of those album by album threads on The Church but don't think there would be enough folks here to make it worthwhile. Anyway, kudos sir!
     
  7. davers

    davers Forum Resident

    Heyday2day thanks for the album recommendations. I have all of the Arista CDs but only very selected later releases (namely, After Everything Now This and U23, both of which I really dig).

    Let's talk Starfish-related releases for a moment. Louis, thanks for posting the photo of the Destination cd single. I always though that was an odd choice for a single but I'm glad I picked it up upon release as it's a groovy little Church collectible...odd packaging and all. Also from Starfish I have two variations of the Under The Milky Way 5" CD single; one the original W. German issue and also a later Aussie release. And finally, one of my faves Church cds, the promo CD with in-studio acoustic performances of four tracks from Starfish. I orginally had it on vinyl but found the CD version a few years later.

    Are there any other related CD singles from the era?
     
  8. Efus

    Efus Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    I agree with Stand, the middle eight w/ the "bagpipe" solo, makes this song, as did Kilbey's vocal performance, imo.
    The "bagpipe" solo literally elevates the tune, and pulls it out of the dream guitar strumming with its laid back counterpoints.
    If it hadn't been in there, it'd would have gotten quite boring with just the same tempo through out, as great as that tempo and feeling was.
    I'd also say I really like Kilbey's vocal performance on this one, how he mixes the delivery of the lines, sometimes in the same line, between lower key warmth, and a louder, more clipped, aggressive voice.
     
    1970 likes this.
  9. Groggy

    Groggy Forum Resident

    Not sure if you guys know this but i copied this from the Wiki site relating to UTMW:

    "Under the Milky Way" featured a 12-string acoustic guitar melody along with a solo composed with an EBow on a FenderJazzmaster, and recorded on a Synclavier, leading to a sound reminiscent of bagpipes. Because the band was unable to get a drum track which sounded right live in the studio by Richard Ploog, the band played to a click track and later session musician Russ Kunkel was brought in to add drums and percussion. [3]


    Hope it hasn't blown the song for you. For me it makes it all that special that Peter Koppes would work out the part on a Fender, then record it that way.
     
  10. Groggy

    Groggy Forum Resident

    Slightly off-topic but if you haven't picked up the album 'Forget Yourself" do yourself a favour. It's great AND it grows on you the more you play it!! IMO of course. Has a couple of fairly unknown classics on it like 'June' & 'Appalatia'
     
    1970 and heyday2day like this.
  11. morgan1098

    morgan1098 Forum Resident

    I stated earlier that "Under the Milky Way" was my introduction to Starfish and The Church. It's a great song. I think this hit the airwaves around the same time as R.E.M.'s "Stand." It was a good time for guitar bands.

    The other night I was watching the 2001 movie Donnie Darko. It takes place in 1988 and there is lots of great music in it... including "Under the Milky Way" playing during a pivotal scene in the film. The movie is a total head trip and the song fits perfectly. :)
     
    Efus likes this.
  12. Roisin Dubh

    Roisin Dubh Active Member

    Location:
    Michigan, USA
    I was actually listening to my 2-CD deluxe import of Starfish this weekend. It's a fabulous album by almost any measure, and unlike many records made during the same era, it's aged remarkably well. I may pull out another favorite, Gold Afternoon Fix this, well, afternoon. :winkgrin:
     
    1970 likes this.
  13. AlienRendel

    AlienRendel Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago, il
    I agree that it has aged very well. It does not have the overpowering 80's production of many albums of the era (including some other Church albums).
     
    Efus likes this.
  14. 1970

    1970 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Santa Rosa, CA
    :thumbsup: Many thanks for that. I think the hardest parts are behind me now. :)

    Regarding a Church album-by-album thread, I say why not. I think there really are enough of us here to make it a fun and worthwhile conversation. Also, there are more than a handful of Church fans here on SH that haven't checked in yet... hope they will join this thread shortly.

    .
     
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  15. heyday2day

    heyday2day Forum Resident

    "Stand" was released several months after UTMW if I recall correctly. My three favorite bands around that time were R.E.M., The Church and The Cult and all three began to get mainstream recognition within a year. Up to 1988 I had never heard The Church on the radio, I sometimes heard R.E.M. on the radio ("Fall on Me" got a little play and "It's the End of the World.." got a bit more) and The Cult was getting a decent amount of play. It was a good time for "alternative" bands. I remember thinking at the time that all three were on the way to becoming huge acts. One did, one almost did and one faded away in the collective consciousness. Unfortuntately, it was the most deserving band that suffers relative anonymity today.

    While being pleased that R.E.M. was getting some deserved exposure, I was kind of put off by the track that earned it for them. It wasn't very indicative of R.E.M.'s regular stuff. "Under the Milky Way" was a much better track and much more in line with the Church sound. "Stand" followed a bit later by "Pop Song '89" and "Get Up" and then a couple of years later "Losing My Religion" and "Shiny Happy People" launched R.E.M. into the stratosphere while UTMW's follow ups, "Reptile", "Antenna", "Metropolis" and "You're Still Beautiful" made small ripples, at best, paving the way to cult status. I love R.E.M. but the better group of tracks there belongs to Australia's finest.
     
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  16. 1970

    1970 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Santa Rosa, CA
    If you specifically mean the Starfish era, the answer is no - there are no other CD singles. The other two singles from the album, "Antenna" and "Reptile" had 7" releases. (There was also a "Reptile" cassette single.)

    ****

    By the way, I would like to once again say "hats off" to Mike Fulmer for publishing and maintaining the Most Excellent (and insanely comprehensive) Church Discography:

    http://home.earthlink.net/~thechurch/index.html

    This is not only the best Church discography out there, it's also one of the best artist discographies. Period.

    .
     
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  17. 1970

    1970 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Santa Rosa, CA
    Just to clarify, the information at Wikipedia is incorrect. What was run through the Synclavier really was an African bagpipe. The e-bow guitar parts that we hear are the lead lines interpolated within the backwards bagpipe solo.

    .
     
  18. Efus

    Efus Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    I would tend to agree with you here on those specific tracks.
    But I think, jmo, that the REM albums were overall more varied, and consistently stronger, whereas The Church's output (minus Preist) got a bit spotty, less consistent.

    But anyhow, sorry to lose focus on the task at hand, big ups Louis on this thread, and for picking out such a great album to expand on.
    Can't wait to move on to the upcoming tracks, its been interesting reading everybody's comments on them, pretty insightful overall so far.
     
  19. heyday2day

    heyday2day Forum Resident

    I'd agree that R.E.M.'s albums became more varied as the years went on but I think it was very much to their detriment. They seemed to have lost a collective vision and a bit of their identity. Besides Sometime Anywhere, not the case for The Church.

    Obviously I prefer The Church but I also love R.E.M., especially their 83-92 period, but after that it became very spotty for them. Of course opinions are like arseholes and all that, but I'd say that R.E.M. hasn't made as consistent an album as any Church record since the Magicians album (and I own everything officially released by both bands and a bunch of stuff not official). I've said this to almost any music fan that will listen, and I'm sure somebody will debate this, but there has never been a band with the longevity and steady consistency of The Church. Compare what The Church released in years 18-28 of their existence with say what R.E.M. or the Stones released in that same frame. I'm biased but it's no contest.
     
    1970 likes this.
  20. kwadguy

    kwadguy Senior Member

    Location:
    Cambridge, MA
    To me, this sounds like the classic Clive Davis-ized, corner rounded, big budget release. Some good songs, and assuredly as close as they would ever get to being radio heroes.
     
  21. Twangy

    Twangy Forum Resident

    Location:
    Boston, MA, USA
    not sure if it was "Clive Davis-ized", but it certainly benefited from a decent budget, proven LA producers, and a new label that had some faith in them, and probably might have had some wording about making a record that could break them through to a new audience, and i have to think the band knew that too....I remember thinking that FINALLY other people could learn about this great band i'd loved for years, and tho sometimes liking bands and artists can feel precious, and one can almost NOT want them to be more well-known, it was great to see them break thru, albeit briefly...i'd been highly disappointed with anything R.E.M. had done after 1987, and I think the Church were way more consistent, versus R.E.M. forever earned my ire for stuff like "Losing My Religon' and the mellow music they fell into post mid-90's.......
     
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  22. Efus

    Efus Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    I'll concede this point on two reasons.

    One, and most importantly, I'm only familiar with 4 Church albums, so I can't speak with any great certainty on their catalog as I can on REM's catalog.

    And two, adhearing to Louis' wish that we don't become bogged down in discussing anything else other than this particular Church album, despite some of the excellent points made by Heyday.

    But speaking of Louis, when we moving to the next cut!?!
     
  23. morgan1098

    morgan1098 Forum Resident

    For better or worse, I think R.E.M.'s Document and U2's The Joshua Tree made the record companies more eager to "develop" guitar bands during this time period. Up to this point, R.E.M., U2, The Church and others would have been considered "college rock" bands, but after the success of "The One I Love," "With or Without You," etc, I think the record companies saw the potential for these types of groups to have Top 40 success.

    So yes, I think Starfish probably had a lot of pressure/intervention from the record company to create "hits." Often, this results in a disaster of an album. The great thing about Starfish is that the album is anything but a disaster. In fact, it's brilliant.
     
    1970 likes this.
  24. AlienRendel

    AlienRendel Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago, il
    It's hard to imagine it now, but there was a time when a band like Husker Du could get signed to label like Warner Brothers, in the hopes that they would produce hit records.
     
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  25. dobyblue

    dobyblue Forum Resident

    Brilliant thread and I truly love this album. Don't know too much else by The Church unfortunately but this one has seen decent rotation in my listening patterns since I first heard it @ 1991. I think the first track I really heard from it was "Lost" but I love the entire album from start to finish.

    Really enjoying reading all of the information on each track, great idea for a thread and expertly implemented. Thank you!
     
    1970 likes this.
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