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. 1970

    1970 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Santa Rosa, CA
    It's on the way very soon! Regarding the next one, I sent a question to P.K. and I am hoping he will answer. But I know it's 50-50 that I get a response, so we'll get this moving again in short order.

    I appreciate all the kind words and everybody's participation in the thread. It's going pretty well so far.

    .
     
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  2. DrAftershave

    DrAftershave A Wizard, A True Star

    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA
    I was fourteen when "Under The Milky Way" came out. Great song. I have memories tied to that one.
     
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  3. sublemon

    sublemon Forum Resident

    Starfish is great record but I actually prefer the one just before it (Heyday) - though it was about 3 years before. MAybe just because of having seen a great show where they opened for Echo & the Bunnymen in 1986
     
  4. heyday2day

    heyday2day Forum Resident

    Louis.....I am looking forward to whatever you can get from Mr. Koppes, Starfish related or not. Both him and Marty are phenomenal guitar players that haven't received an nth of the recognition their playing deserves. Each very special in their own right but when together they are unbeatable. I digress...

    I prefer Heyday also. It was one of those albums that, to use an old phrase, "blew my mind" and was a game changer for me. I liked Starfish when it was released but felt it wasn't as strong as their previous three. I loved "Destination", "North, South, East and West", "Reptile", "A New Season" and "Hotel Womb", about half of it, straight off. The rest, including UTMW, took awhile to reveal their complete charms to me. Part of the reason for that is that I was continuously playing Seance and Heyday. Over the years though, my thoughts on SF have changed a little and I recognize it as one of the bands four or five best albums.

    Would have loved to see them pre SF but didn't get the chance. Them with Echo & the Bunnymen would have been a dream gig to attend in '86.
     
  5. sublemon

    sublemon Forum Resident

    Yes, it was a great show. Heyday is little more warm and organic sounding or something. But Starfish is the one that got them known in the US, and it's great too. Basically there are good things to be said about all their albums except maybe a couple from the 90s. Their recent work is very strong too.
     
  6. Twangy

    Twangy Forum Resident

    Location:
    Boston, MA, USA
    not a Starfish post, but I remember seeing them for the first time in November of 1985, after moving to Boston from Philly, supporting the Remote Luxury US compilation, and tho really good, they were a tad uneven.....i have a tape of the show I got somewhere, and i remember the show being marred by an over zealous girl whistling so loudly Kilbey even had to mention it! Having met them all at this point, a great memory was seeing them on the Heyday tour here in Boston, opening for Echo and the Bunnymen, hooking up with the fellas backstage, and standing on the stage, behind the curtain with them, watching Echo do their set.....sorry to be off topic
     
  7. 1970

    1970 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Santa Rosa, CA
    3. “Blood Money”


    The Church wrote the music for “Blood Money” together during one of their 1986 visits to London.³ Steve Kilbey thought the “tension” in the music “suggested a blackmail situation” and, while stating the song is indeed “about a politician being blackmailed by a prostitute,” it was rare of him to further proffer that when writing the lyrics, the Malcom Fraser “Memphis Trousers Affair” served as inspiration. “Blood Money” was one of only three completed songs The Church had for a new album when they arrived in Los Angeles in June of 1987, to begin work on Starfish. (The other two were “Under The Milky Way” and “Hotel Womb.”)

    Very little else has been said or written about “Blood Money,” but whatever might be left to the listener’s interpretation only adds to the song’s mystique.

    The sonic experience of playing “Blood Money” (on vinyl, though headphones) I liken to standing on a beach in a racing time lapse, with fleeting clouds and an accelerated exchange between sweeping ebb and crashing flood of the tide. The torrents The Church create here are firmly anchored, and at the same time, cleverly unhinged by an impressive and thoughtful Richard Ploog performance. Ploog alternates between cutting rim shots and “rapid firebursts of power” (to borrow a line from Rolling Stone writer Bernard Zuel ), to set up the unfolding drama of the verses; he then solidly nails the buildups to the galvanizing beat of the haunting refrains. Kilbey’s bass lines don’t clash; they are fluid or driving, as needed. This sets up the guitars, which run through a veritable palette of different textures. First, there is the clocklike figure; lithe color washes are interposed. Then, open minor chords are flourished with squalling, contrapuntal tones that revisited listeners later (and with even more intensity) on Priest=Aura. The efficient (yet highly effective) solo in the middle soars with understated grace. Every bit of this Koppes/Willson-Piper exchange is otherworldy, in my view. And I would be remiss if I failed to mention how well all of this is recorded and mixed. It’s simply glorious. The playback in the control room must have been both breathtaking and fearsome.

    If “Destination” plays out cinematically, then “Blood Money” winds its way literarily. Its ambiguous narrative of intrigue plays out very much like a sordid short novel. Everything is here: entanglement, deception, treachery, a payoff. Kilbey delivers every vocal line adeptly, alternating between his trademark, impassive expression (…can I pay for it now in cold, hard cash?) and menacing inflection (…you make the front page, I’m gonna bring back the lash…).

    So I know you understand… it’s “Blood Money.”

    This is my favorite song on Starfish at the moment. But that’s bound to change, because…


    Next up: “Lost”


    ****


    ¹ Pollack, Bruce: Guitar magazine, March 1989
    ² Gavin Report: The Church: Sum of the Parts promo, Arista Records, 1988 (transcription)
    ³ Kilbey, Steve: Mushroom Records Starfish press release, 1988
    Zuel, Bernard: “Wishing On A Star: The Church Suffer Under the Bad Karma of L.A., Find Communion with Each Other, and Deliver a Hit Album,” Rolling Stone Australia: Issue 419, June 1988
    Lurie, Robert Dean: No Certainty Attached: Steve Kilbey and the Church: A Biography, Verse Chorus Press, 2009, p.177
    ⁶ same as
     
  8. AlienRendel

    AlienRendel Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago, il
    Another song that I think really benefits from the extra attention paid to the arrangements on Starfish. The interaction of the guitars and the way the rhythm section pushes and pulls against the vocal changes is excellent and really lends weight to the mood on this one. I like the arpeggiated guitar fading out at the end - it makes you feel that the situation remains unresolved.
     
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  9. 1970

    1970 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Santa Rosa, CA
    Excellent point. That is very much the case.

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  10. 1970

    1970 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Santa Rosa, CA
    4. “Lost”


    For “Lost,” I defer to the one and only Marty Willson-Piper. His comments for the song, part of his impressive liner notes for the Starfish 2011 reissue CD, are consummate. I won’t attempt to improve upon perfection.





    Next up: “North, South, East and West”


    ****



    ¹ Willson-Piper, Marty: liner notes, The Church Starfish CD, Second Motion Records, 2011. Text ©2011 Sony/Arista. All rights reserved by the copyright holder.

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  11. zwolo

    zwolo Forum Resident

    Location:
    providence
    This thread is fantastic! Love every lyric sung by kilbey with the phonetic -ash , lash cash etc. so good. I just also want to throw my recommendation of picking up Marty's art attack on clear ryko analog vinyl. Nothing like it.
     
  12. Juggsnelson

    Juggsnelson Senior Member

    Location:
    Long Island
    Perfectly said! My all time favorite Church track and a masterpiece!
     
  13. heyday2day

    heyday2day Forum Resident

    Piecing together random thoughts regarding "Blood Money"....or more scattershooting

    For the Church, it's a very direct track but with enough nuances and ambiguity to keep it from being nailed to one specific meaning or one specific circumstance.

    Kilbey's vocal is brilliant. The emotions of disgust, loathing and bemusement are expressed in every conceivable way via his vocals here.

    More than any other track on the album, this one seems to be most influenced by Los Angeles. The picture I get in my head is of the band being pent up in some less than desirable hotel on the edges of the seedier parts of LA and I imagine SK watching these scenes unfold in unlit parking lots and on forgotten traffic corners. His contempt, disgust and resignation are palpable.

    The guitars are very clean, gleaming, like a scalpel. It's a tone not heard often but it matches the lyrical content wonderfully.

    It's probably SK's nastiest Church lyric up to this point.

    MWP and PK's backing vocals don't get enough recognition but when used they always add something that makes the track better. They are superb here.

    When I first heard the song way back, I didn't warm to it immediately but Ploog's drums kept me coming back to it. Eventually I recognized it's greatness.

    Live, this track was transformed into an almost hard rock anthem, completely different feel. All for now, "Lost" tomorrow.
     
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  14. 1970

    1970 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Santa Rosa, CA
    5. “North, South, East and West”


    Following the fadeout of the lush and captivating “Lost,” a stark, metallic guitar riff jars the listener out of that dream within a dream. The ghostly lead line right behind it quickly channels Starfish headlong back into full rock mode with a vengeance. This five minute tempest is none other than “North, South, East and West.”

    The Church’s version of the homesick blues, “North, South, East and West” transfigures a mere longing for home into the Judgment of Babylon. Steve Kilbey, “immersed in the culture of his surroundings,” ³ slings the lyrics with a tone of arrant exasperation in every line.

    Excerpts:

    The real estate's prime, the number plates rhyme…
    Dream up a scam and then rake in the clams…
    To a wolf from a lamb for just half a gram…
    The face of today just a scalpel away…
    Backs are patted when calves are fatted…
    The guys with the luck got the bimbos and bucks…

    Alongside Kilbey’s scathing commentary, Marty Willson-Piper’s spectral lead guitar lines take the Rickenbacker 12-string into waters previously uncharted. The figure he repeats not only compliments the lyric urgency, but becomes a resonant voice unto itself. The inspired vocal layers in the choruses add to the urgency.

    “From a riff by Peter [Koppes],” it is believed that the origins for “North, South, East and West” go back to April 1986, during The Church’s second tour of America. In 1988, in the midst of a grinding tour schedule and plagued by the same questions over and over again from the press, Kilbey offered this up in what must have been a moment of vexation:


    I think this song is a force of nature. This one will be ringing in your head long after that simmering, methodically spaced last line of:

    North...

    South…

    East…

    West.



    Next up: “Spark”


    ****


    ¹ Willson-Piper, Marty: liner notes, The Church Starfish CD, Second Motion Records, 2011.
    ² "The Starfish Enterprise," Sounds, April 16, 1988
    ³ same as ¹
    Kilbey, Steve: Mushroom Records Starfish press release, 1988
    Kilbey, Steve: “the donkeys do dallas,” The Time Being, July 29, 2006
    Webb, Paul: The Church: Setlist Database
    Beeson, Frank: "The Church," Bucketfull of Brains, No. 25, May 1988

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  15. heyday2day

    heyday2day Forum Resident

    Erm....seems the thread here is kind of dying off (of course, I've kind of contributed to that by not being around the past few days). Looks like it's just you and me Louis! I know it shouldn't, but it has always bothered me that this band generates such little interest in the States.

    I'm behind but I'll catch up eventually.

    Anyway, random thoughts on "Lost"

    The interplay between the guitars are majestic on the track and the modulation at the bridge is beautiful.

    There's a vague similarity to Pink Floyd's "Learning to Fly" but "Lost" is more glistening, sharp, biting and clever. The guitar solo out-Gilmour's Mr. Gilmour himself.

    Most ladies-girls that heard this track liked it. It was, along with "Comedown", my ex wife's favorite Church song/

    SK at the top of his game here. Obscure and evocative.

    Speaking of SK, he really comes into his own as a vocalist on Starfish. He was always unique but on this album he begins to convey a subtlety that really broadens the lyrical scope of the tracks beyond the pat definition of a word or phrase.

    The ending of the track is one of (many) the greatest examples of the interplay between Koppes and Willson-Piper. Two guitarists so tied into each other that it's almost as if there's two body's and one head. Anyway, here the sound is like church bells tolling on a lazy, hazy morning.
     
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  16. heyday2day

    heyday2day Forum Resident

    Three of my favorite Church tracks (I've got so many!) reside on Starfish. "NSEW", "A New Season" and "Hotel Womb". The opening quote you cited by Kilbey about this being the quintessential Church track has a lot of truth in it, at least in regards to the more rocking Church songs. Kind of like how "Destination" ticks all the boxes for the typical cinematic, ethereal type Church track. I'm going to listen to it and then add my thoughts in a bit.
     
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  17. 1970

    1970 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Santa Rosa, CA
    This has been my observation as well. Very much the case. There's an evolution taking place with SK's vocals over the first 7 releases (4 albums, 3 EPs) that definitely comes full circle with Starfish. It's a finesse that carries into his work (both with The Church and beyond) to this day.

    I couldn't have said it better! That coda is so reminiscent of, and a direct successor to, the work the two began on The Blurred Crusade and then resumed on Heyday. It's a simply mesmerizing passage.

    .
     
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  18. JeffMo

    JeffMo Format Agnostic

    Location:
    New England
    I have posted this before in the "Congregation" Church thread but it bears repeating here. Always liked the song when it came out in '88, but not quite enough to get me to buy the album for some reason. Fast forward to 2003 or so, and I'm watching (and loving) the DD movie and soundtrack, go to buy said soundtrack, find out it is unavailable (at least in the US), so I start buying the cds to make my own cdr soundtrack. Picked up "Under The Milky Way - The Best of The Church" and was absolutely gobsmacked by songs like "Ripple" and "Myrhh" in addition to UTMW. How did I miss this amazing band! I now own every album, several singles, and saw them live a couple years ago on the 30th anniversary tour.
     
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  19. Efus

    Efus Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    Some thoughts on the 3 I've missed here....

    Blood Money- After Milky Way and Reptile, this was probably the next song to have really caught my year, simply because it was more heavy than the previous 2 on the album.
    I think this is probably Kilbey's best vocal on the album, due to, as was noted, the many personalities/inflections he gives the words. I'd also note, this was the first appearance, but not the last, of the "big" background vocals on this album. Whereas "Destination" had some low key background, in Blood Money the background is right there with the lead vocal in the mix, and I think its interesting how the background sometimes takes the lead before Kilbey answers with his line. (In the hand, In the sand) Also like the simple, brief guitar solo on this, as well as the drum work that I believe Louis noted previously.

    Lost- this was a grower on me, initially I was skipping over it on cd. But after some weeks, I began letting this play through, and at some point, on a personal level, I became really attached to it.
    An old life/relationship had ended, I drifted for a couple years, trying to figure things out, and this tune almost perfectly spoke to that. The matter-of-fact melancoly that Kilbey conjures up in his vocal suits the song perfectly. Another good background, more like Destination in the background. The music is fine, but I think its Kilbey's words and vocals that really strike me on this tune.
     
    1970 likes this.
  20. Efus

    Efus Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    Ok, N,S,E & W- when this spun out of the player the first time on the first listen, I knew I had purchased a very unique, engaging cd.
    Love the main focal point of it, the descending guitar figure that dominates the song.
    Also the intro riff seemed a lot drier than anything that precede it on the album, so I was becoming aware of the various guitar textures that were used on Starfish.
    And again on the chorus/extended chorus, the strong background vocal sometimes takes the lead line with Kilbey answering, a method previously noted had been used on "Blood Money" to great effect.

    The only quibble I have with this song is the verses. The band doesn't seemed real convincing on them, neither the music, where the lead line seems to be trying to add something interesting, nor how its sung.
    But I think the fact that the chorus, and extended chorus (I take my payment, I catch my flight...) is so strong, along with the guitar figure is where this song gets its muscle.
     
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  21. AlienRendel

    AlienRendel Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago, il
    NSEW is one of my favorites on the album. I think this is Marty's fastest ever lead. The bass playing is really interesting on this tune, too. Remember that this was the 80's and there were many, many rhythm sections out there were the drummer tried to sound like a drum machine and the bass throbbed along on endless root notes. The Church were doing something much more interesting with their bass & drum arrangements. I also really dig the middle section in this where, instead of a wanky guitar solo, we get the guitars playing another simple hook and some nice left to right panning.
     
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  22. Stuart S

    Stuart S Back Jack

    Location:
    lv
    What? I finally stumble across this!!
     
  23. AlienRendel

    AlienRendel Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago, il
    WAKE UP! :goodie:
     
  24. 1970

    1970 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Santa Rosa, CA
    Welcome!

    Join in. (You automatically get bonus points for your avatar. :thumbsup:)

    .
     
  25. 1970

    1970 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Santa Rosa, CA
    6. "Spark"


    "Spark" features a rare lead vocal by Marty Willson-Piper on a Church album; it is also a rarity in that it is one of only a small handful of straight-ahead rock songs in the entire Church oeuvre. What is more, in his excellent liner notes for the Second Motion Starfish reissue CD, MWP points out something that in all these years was never all that apparent to me, at least on a highly conscious level: "Spark" really is quite different from the rest of Starfish. The song is practically an anomaly, really. But, as Efus pointed out (on the nail) very early on in this thread, the tracks on the album are well sequenced; so any departure that "Spark" might present is hardly noticeable. (Far-off things can be quite near, as the lyric goes.) In any event, "Spark" does make for a very strong Side Two opener with its wide open power chords, pop flare and an all-out, raspy MWP rock voice.



    Next up: "Antenna"


    ****


    ¹ Willson-Piper, Marty: liner notes, The Church Starfish CD, Second Motion Records, 2011. Text ©2011 Sony/Arista. All rights reserved by the copyright holder.

    .
     
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