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. JeffMo

    JeffMo Format Agnostic

    Location:
    New England
    The hunt begins this weekend. I looked to see if the more recent LP of Untitled #23 might be more available and it is $99+ on Amazon. :cry:

    What are you busy with work, family, life??? Watching the Atlanta Braves?

    Come on Louis, stay focused. This is The Church.
     
  2. Levitated

    Levitated Forum Resident

    Location:
    Littleton, MA
    I'd give Newbury Comics a call. I'll bet one of their locations has it. I got lucky & bought an autographed copy at one of the shows a few years back. The vinyl has a different track order & includes a few tracks not on the CD.
     
  3. JeffMo

    JeffMo Format Agnostic

    Location:
    New England
    Good call Levitated. I was going to be hitting them up anyway for RSD! I also have a trip to NH later next week and plan to hit Bull Moose.
     
  4. Scott S.

    Scott S. lead singer for the best indie band on earth

    Location:
    Walmartville PA
    I liked Gold Afternoon Fix better than any other Church record that I've heard, to listen to the whole way thru. Reptile though is the ultimate song from this group, and is in my top 5 favorite songs of all time, seriously.
     
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  5. vonwegen

    vonwegen Forum Resident

    Well, if it works for you, fine.

    For me, it's a bit like Pretenders II, which also would've benefitted from more time & care in the arrangements.
     
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  6. 1970

    1970 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Santa Rosa, CA
    2011 Starfish Bonus Tracks


    We’ve finally come to the bonus material issued with 2011 Second Motion Starfish reissue. As requested, we will discuss these tracks.

    I should just state from the outset that I do understand the limitations and inherent flaws of bonus tracks; imperfections are normally part of the experience. And in preparing for this thread, it did occur to me that perhaps I am not the right person for this review. Being the ardent Church fan that I am might preclude me from being fair-minded. I have always had high expectations for this band's output; at times it's been too high. Still, I must call it like I see it (and hear it), so be forewarned: while this is still a Starfish appreciation thread, all bets are off with this bonus material. You're about to read a lot of critical "would have/could have/should have"— some things that never fully occurred to me prior to this material being cobbled together and then perilously juxtaposed with the mighty Starfish album. (...So can we blame it on Second Motion?) As it goes, it is now likely that yours truly, the OP, will finally catch some real flak from the stands; but I will insert the fine print anyway: the following observations and judgments are merely my own — your results may vary.

    So this Second Motion Starfish reissue has two CDs: a white disc and a black disc. The white disc contains the Starfish album in its entirety. The black disc contains the bonus material. I find it very apropos that the discs are white and black, for they couldn’t be more different. Twelve bonus tracks — at first glance — appears generous. But in my opinion, this “black disc” is a sprawling, clunky affair.

    In compiling the bonus material for the black disc, it is apparent that Second Motion didn't have the capital or the clout needed to secure and master any alternate Starfish session material from Sony/Arista. (It may be a moot point — it's quite possible the Starfish session tapes no longer exist.) So, under this likely circumstance, I think this set would have been better served if they had tacked on just the three acoustic songs from the 1988 Sum Of The Parts radio promo, and that’s all. Not only because before this reissue these were the three rarest tracks, but also because beyond any actual Starfish session outtakes, the Sum Of The Parts tracks are the most concisely relevant.

    Nearly all of the other bonus tracks offered on the black disc are easily found on prior releases, the best and most accessible of these being the Australian compilation of b-sides and demos known as A Quick Smoke At Spot’s (Mushroom, 1991). I'll also add that the tracks excised from Spot’s for inclusion here are far less effective on this 2011 Starfish reissue. This is because these recordings were part of a much larger picture on Spot’s. You see, there are many cool odds and sods offered on Spot’s that, when presented as a whole, complement one another. Here, in this setting the Spot’s tracks feel out of context. Also, we don't know exact recording dates for all of the Spot's tracks. So we can't be completely certain what really is Starfish era, and what isn't. On Spot's, this detail doesn't matter. It's just "Archives 1986-1990," and when presented that way, everything flows nicely.

    If it’s not already evident where this is leading, my "blanket" take is that this black disc is strictly for the hard core Church completist, which I am — to a fault. However, even I find several of these recordings dismissible (a few even unlistenable), especially as presented in this package. (As I posted earlier in the thread, the real value in the Second Motion Starfish reissue is not in the mastering or the bonus material; it is in Marty Willson-Piper's extensive and insightful liner notes. You probably won't find them in their entirety anywhere else.)

    So I will now offer my brief, personal thoughts for each 2011 Starfish reissue bonus track, in one fell swoop, and (like the tracks themselves) with little polish or production. Also, rather than review the songs in their running order, I will present them in the order I feel is best to worst.


    9. “Antenna” (Acoustic)

    Other appearance of this track:
    • Sum Of The Parts radio promo CD/LP (Arista, 1988) (USA)
    Crown jewel of the black disc. Sweet version of this song! A pleasantly crisp, well-executed, stripped-down take with all players on top of their game. Peter Koppes on mandolin and Richard Ploog on tambourine. If you’re thinking of springing for the 2011 Starfish reissue for the bonus tracks, this one alone almost makes it worth the outlay. (The key word here is almost.)


    8. “Under The Milky Way” (Acoustic)

    Other appearances of this track:
    • Sum Of The Parts radio promo CD/LP (Arista, 1988) (USA)
    • B-side to “Reptile” 7" single (Arista, 1988) (USA)
    • “Destination” CD single (Arista, 1988) (USA)
    Along with the acoustic "Antenna," this is one of The Church’s recorded “unplugged” moments that really shines, the likes of which we don’t experience again until the Liberation “El Momento” acoustic albums, nearly two decades on. A very nice and (at that time) different slant on the Church's best-known song. Still, compared to the album version, there is no contest. Stick with the bagpipes.


    3. “We Both Know Why You’re Here”

    Other appearance of this track:
    • A Quick Smoke At Spot's compilation CD/LP (Mushroom, 1991) (Australia)
    A rare attempt at straight-ahead rock and roll, which in the hands of The Church becomes quirky pastiche, more often than not. That is definitely not a bad thing, but thankfully they have not charted these waters often. This one is a real keeper. Always a Spot’s highlight for me. I like the tongue-in-cheek humor of it, and Kilbey's deadpan vocal delivery. Very cool little tune, and at 2:21 it doesn’t go on too long.


    1. “Texas Moon”

    Other appearances of this track:
    • Limited Edition 12" Starfish bonus EP (Arista, 1988) (Europe)
    • 7” Flexi Disc (Bucketfull Of Brains magazine, Issue #25, 1988) (UK)
    • B-side to “Reptile” 7" single (Mushroom, 1988) (Australia)
    • A Quick Smoke At Spot's compilation CD/LP (Mushroom, 1991) (Australia)
    • Almost Yesterday compilation CD (Raven, 1994) (Australia)
    • The Best of the Church CD (Mushroom, 1999) (Australia)
    • All Killer No Filler CD (Music Sales Group, 2009) (USA)
    Hands down, one of my favorite Church obscurities. Such a ballsy tune, and I like its incessant clatter. Extra points for the bluesy harmonica a la Rio Grande Mud. Very uncommon to hear this instrument in a Church song, so its sudden appearance underneath the wailing lead guitar line is all at once so fitting, amusing and incongruous. The vibe here is good, but that’s as far as I go in extolling the virtues of this recording — simply because of the drumming. Great tone and a cool Ploogy groove coming from that kit, but the beat is not solid through and through. Whenever I hear this track, I always hear what might have been. Developed to its full potential, “Texas Moon” would have been a show-stopper. In a parallel universe, a better produced, tighter version of the song is the rightful b-side for “Under The Milky Way” (rather than the dismal “Musk”). And on my "fantasy" Starfish CD, that killer take of "Texas Moon" is the hidden track at the end of the album, 45 seconds after the fadeout of "Hotel Womb." (I think that would have been cool.) Of course, none of this was meant to be, and The Church have never played this song live. This gussied-up, raw demo is all we have of “Texas Moon”… and perhaps the feeling that the whole thing could fly apart at any moment is part of its reckless charm.


    5. “Anna Miranda”

    Other appearances of this track:
    • Limited Edition 12" Starfish bonus EP (Arista, 1988) (Europe)
    • 2 x 7” Starfish Tour promo (Arista, 1988) (Spain)
    • A Quick Smoke At Spot's compilation CD/LP (Mushroom, 1991) (Australia)
    This is “Under The Milky Way’s” schizophrenic half-sister, replete with the descending bass part, the “wish I knew what you were looking for” line, and a co-writing credit for Karin Jansson. It's presumed that this track was recorded just for kicks, as an experiment in tempo acceleration for an otherwise temperate and ethereal musical thought. I find this track interesting and entertaining.


    7. “Afterlife”

    Other appearance of this track:
    • A Quick Smoke At Spot's compilation CD/LP (Mushroom, 1991) (Australia)
    Da Vinci said: “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” There is something compelling about this tossed-aside instrumental, even if it is just a sketch. It has a soothing quality to it. Another Spot's highlight for me. In your mind, transfer this from the sketching pad to a canvas and begin painting. This could have been right up there with "Happy Hunting Ground" — that caliber.


    2. “Perfect Child”

    Other appearances of this track:
    • Limited Edition 12" Starfish bonus EP (Arista, 1988) (Europe)
    • B-side on “Under The Milky Way” 12" single (Arista, 1988) (Spain)
    • A Quick Smoke At Spot's compilation CD/LP (Mushroom, 1991) (Australia)
    • “Under The Milky Way” CD single (Mushroom 25th Anniversary series, 1998) (Australia)
    At this point, it's all downhill with these bonus tracks. And, in paraphrasing some of Steve Kilbey’s liner notes for A Quick Smoke At Spot's, I become the chuckling scribe, as this adaptation of his words really comes off as the classic disclaimer:

    These songs were roughly and quickly recorded in sketch pad form and were never originally intended for your ears. They are of humble and modest beginnings and beg leniency. But each song has at least one interesting or redeeming feature that justifies its rescue from the chilly vaults of obscurity.

    Fair enough. There is something about "Perfect Child" that begs leniency, and a properly produced version of it, with some slight modifications, could have made it into the tracklisting of any proper Arista Church album. There are the hypnotic verses in D minor (think a narcotic "Paint It Black") that gently implode into progressive, almost jazz-like refrains with some spoken word underneath. But leniency has its limits. A look at this recording's discography appearances speaks "lofty" to me. As with a few other recordings pressed into service for the same purpose, this was not a credible supporting track for the "Under The Milky Way" single. I'll leave it at that.


    4. “Frozen And Distant”

    Other appearances of this track:
    • Limited Edition 12" Starfish bonus EP (Arista, 1988) (Europe)
    • 7” Flexi Disc (Rock De Lux magazine, Issue #43, 1988) (Spain)
    • B-side to “Antenna” 7” and 12” singles (Arista, 1988) (Europe and Spain)
    • A Quick Smoke At Spot's compilation CD/LP (Mushroom, 1991) (Australia)
    An exuberant tune that kicks off swimmingly, but then loses its way. In his liner notes for this Starfish reissue, Marty Willson Piper wrote that "Frozen And Distant" was a song The Church played live with some regularity back then; they had expected it to make it onto Starfish, but it “fell short." The song does have catchy verses (with Kilbey's singing cleverly mimicking the lead guitar line), but they devolve into choruses are too Heyday-ish and then everything kind of stumbles at the bridge. Again, glancing at this recording's discography appearances, I can see this recording on a magazine flexi giveaway, but assigning it as the b-side to the "Antenna" single is truly questionable.


    11. “Warm Spell”

    Other appearances of this track:
    • 7” Flexi Disc (Bucketfull Of Brains magazine, Issue #15, 1986) (UK)
    • B-side to “Under The Milky Way” 7” and 12” singles (Mushroom, 1988) (Australia)
    • B-side to “Under The Milky Way” 12" single (Arista, 1988) (UK, France, Germany)
    • “Under The Milky Way” CD single (Arista, 1988) (Germany)
    • “Under The Milky Way” cassette single (Arista, 1988) (USA)
    • B-side to “Antenna” 12" single (Arista, 1988) (Spain)
    • “Under The Milky Way” CD single (Mushroom 25th Anniversary series, 1998) (Australia)
    I’ve tried to like this song, but I don’t think I will ever get there. Yes it's Churchy, I suppose; but only because The Church are performing it. That sappy little chord progression at the top sure goes a long way in steering the entire composition a little too far into the pop-panache stratosphere, for my taste. But what do I know. People on YouTube say it is a "really great song that didn't make it onto Starfish" (a historically misguided statement) and "what a fantastic Church tune" (…whatever). I say Second Motion should have tacked this one on to the end of their Heyday reissue. It would have been more at home there. Like "Frozen And Distant," it smacks of that same Church-circa-1985 verve, but to the nth degree. This is because the song was recorded not long after the release of Heyday, meaning well before Starfish was a glimmering prospect. So, as it really is from another time, I find “Warm Spell’s” inclusion as a Starfish “bonus track” puzzling. Why it got so many insertions on Starfish-era singles releases I find puzzling. And why it was not included on Spot’s (where it truly belongs) I find the most puzzling. It's OK — you can say I don't get it. I really don't.


    6. “Nose Dive”

    Other appearance of this track:
    • A Quick Smoke At Spot's compilation CD/LP (Mushroom, 1991) (Australia)
    The title pretty much says it all. An upbeat, spasmodic, psychedelic jam with some words hastily thrown on top (or seemingly so). I wonder if the band had ever considered that "Nose Dive" might have been better as an instrumental. They would have been right.


    10. “Spark” (Acoustic)

    Other appearance of this track:
    • Sum Of The Parts radio promo CD/LP (Arista, 1988) (USA)
    By far the weakest of the three Sum Of The Parts promo tracks. Where is The Church on this one? This is basically Marty Willson-Piper in the solo acoustic spotlight, with Richard Ploog sitting in, off to the side, spazzing out on some bongos. This version of "Spark" is just a couple of steps short of awful. It doesn't serve the song, nor does it further the band's cause (after all, this was originally part of a Church radio promo). Again… just my opinion.


    12. “Musk”

    Other appearances of this track:
    • 7” Flexi Disc (From The Vault magazine, Vol. 1, No. 3, 1987) (Australia)
    • Limited Edition 12" Starfish bonus EP (Arista, 1988) (Europe)
    • B-side to “Under The Milky Way” 7" single (Arista, 1988) (USA, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Spain, South Africa, Japan)
    • B-side to “Under The Milky Way” 12" single (Arista, 1988) (USA, UK, France, Germany, Spain)
    • B-side to “Under The Milky Way” 7” and 12” singles (Mushroom, 1988) (Australia)
    • “Under The Milky Way” CD single (Arista, 1988) (UK)
    • “Under The Milky Way” cassette single (Arista, 1988) (USA)
    • “Under The Milky Way” CD single (Mushroom 25th Anniversary series, 1998) (Australia)
    Last track on the black disc — and dead last here, too. This is absolutely, unequivocally one recording that should have never left The Church's "chilly vaults." Folks, as far as I'm concerned, we are now on the other side of awful. And to this day, it is shocking to me that this recording was the most commonly used b-side for the sublime "Under The Milky Way." How The Church could have even considered it, how Arista ever allowed it, is beyond my comprehension. To think they had "Hotel Womb," "NSEW," "Lost," "A New Season" all at their fingertips… and they chose "Musk" for the b-side? All I can say is: if an unsuspecting new listener queued up the wrong side of the 7" "Under The Milky Way" single back then, odds-on it was curtains — that is, for that would-be fan, "Musk" would have been his very first, and very last, Church song.

    ****

    Next up: Comments, responses, insults and threats. Then we will do an Album Summary… of sorts.


    .
     
  7. AlienRendel

    AlienRendel Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago, il
    After hearing Steve sing "Milky-Way" so many times live, often indifferently, I really appreciate his performance on the acoustic version here. His voice sounds smooth and great and he sings like he means it.
     
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  8. 1970

    1970 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Santa Rosa, CA
    Agreed. The recording is very balanced and warm, and the performance is compelling. It's my favorite acoustic version of UTMW in a cluster of acoustic versions (both officially and unofficially released).

    Thanks for checking in throughout the life of the thread. Your posts have added a lot.

    .
     
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  9. AlienRendel

    AlienRendel Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago, il
    I dig the rankings and (mostly) agree. I think I'd put Texas Moon at #1 for the bonus tracks. It's the only of the bonus tracks I think could've been turned into a fully developed version for the album.

    Great thread Louis! Thanks for putting all this together.
     
    1970 likes this.
  10. JeffMo

    JeffMo Format Agnostic

    Location:
    New England
    I don't think you will get insults or threats about bonus tracks Louis. Everthing the mighty Church has released has not been A-list material.

    Other than the acoustic "Milky Way" and "Texas Moon" tracks, each of which I love, I can't comment on the others without giving the bonus disc a listen again. I'll queue that up in my 5 disc changer today.

    I got RSD date mixed up and decided not to wait in case it sold out, so I made the journey down to the South shore to pick this up. Sleeve was in good condition but the records is quite dirty/dusty with lots of pops. I'll need to give it a good cleaning and re-listen.

    That is one of the nicer Newbury Comics by the way - much larger than most of the other ones too. I'll be making another future pilgrimage when I have more time to browse.
     
  11. morgan1098

    morgan1098 Forum Resident

    Great comments. I certainly agree with you that this is not the Church's best material, but I do like having it all on one disc with Starfish as a sort of document of where the band's heads were at the time. It's interesting to learn that "Warm Spell" was recorded long before the album. If that's the case, I'd agree that it should go with the Heyday bonus material.

    As others have said, my two favorite tracks are "Texas Moon" and the acoustic UTMW. I find it interesting that the band kept the basic structure of "Milky Way" intact for the acoustic version--including the bagpipe solo (except played on a harmonica in this case).

    Also, I found Piper's liner notes on the acoustic tracks interesting. He says that the label asked them to record acoustic versions so that radio stations would have an "alternate version" to play after listeners get tired of hearing the album track. That's an interesting concept, but I always thought bands recorded acoustic versions solely to use as b-side material. I had no idea any of these sparse, messy acoustic versions were ever intended for radio play. I've certainly never heard a radio station play them (by The Church or any other band). Maybe a late-night college radio show, but not during the regular rotation.
     
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  12. Twangy

    Twangy Forum Resident

    Location:
    Boston, MA, USA
    2011 Starfish Bonus Tracks

    3. “We Both Know Why You’re Here”
    1. “Texas Moon”
    11. “Warm Spell”

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    EXCELLENT post on these bonus tracks, and I DO have some Second Motion involvement.......I like We Both Know... to some degree, for it's pretty extreme guitar noisiness, a trait they didn't much do on record, bar Travel by Thought on Seance....for your boring story folks, I spent the summer of 1988 in Sydney, of course Starfish was all over the radio, as were some other favorite like the Ups and Downs and Crystal Set, but i grabbed a few copies of the Reptile green vinyl 7" with Texas Moon on the B side....cut to the autumn, and I won some radio contest on the then-huge Boston FM giant WBCN, to choose and play 10 songs you liked...they chose mine, and I played a bunch of songs including Texas Moon, which people ended up calling in to know where they could get it! And finally, i have the flexi from the great UK mag Bucketful of Brains that had Warm Spell on it, had to be 1986 i think....I figured that was it's first appearance, and I will admit i DO like it...it's super lightweight, and not atypical of them, but there is something kind of sweet about that I always liked, and some of the chord changes are nice too.....
     
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  13. buckets

    buckets Forum Resident

    Location:
    Midlothian VA
    Has anyone heard the Radio Rock Remix of "Reptile"? It was released on a 12'' promo in the U.S. and runs at 4:44. I was curious as to what was done to remix this song (or is an edit of the LP version?). Would like to know if it's worth tracking down since it is one of my favorite Church songs.
     
  14. 1970

    1970 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Santa Rosa, CA
    It's been years since I'vc played it. But I believe it is like the radio edit for "Destination"... simply hacked down to conform to the constraints of radio airtime slots. I will pull the 12" promo from the stacks tonight, play it and report back.

    .
     
  15. AlienRendel

    AlienRendel Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago, il
    Correct. It is more of an edit than a remix (though it MIGHT have the drums mixed up a bit louder).
     
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  16. morgan1098

    morgan1098 Forum Resident

    I have a similar question. On the Deep in the Shallows collection (2005 Australian version), "Reptile" is 4:55 and the liner notes say: "From the 7 inch single Reptile. Album version appears on Starfish." But the version on Starfish is also 4:55. So the version on Deep in the Shallows is not a radio edit. Is it actually a different mix? It sounds the same to me.
     
  17. AlienRendel

    AlienRendel Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago, il
    That I'm not sure about. They may have just mistakenly included the album version the comp.

    I have the Rock Radio Remix as an mp3. It seems to have the vocals and drums mixed higher than on the album and a more excited eq curve. Not sure where the 15 seconds were dropped from the run time.
     
  18. JeffMo

    JeffMo Format Agnostic

    Location:
    New England
    Fell asleep in my chair listening to the bonus disc of Starfish the other night. "Texas Moon" of course is fantastic, but the other tracks are fairly middling. I'll give the other six songs a go and report back.

    Can't help but feel The Church is missing out on the RSD thing. Bands much more famous and much more obscure participate - can you imagine how cool it would be to have 180g pressing of The Blurred Crusade or a 4 pack of Starfish era 7" singles next year? You would think at least Marty would push for this, being the known record hound that he is.
     
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  19. JeffMo

    JeffMo Format Agnostic

    Location:
    New England
    It is a nice version. The rest of the second half sound like b-sides though to me. For someone just getting Starfish for the first time, they should get the new remaster for Marty's notes, this acoustic version, and "Texas Moon" alone. Otherwise the bonus tracks are not essential.
     
  20. GabeL

    GabeL Forum Resident

    Gotta say, thanks for all this Bonus information! I will definitely be picking up the deluxe re-issue :)
     
  21. vonwegen

    vonwegen Forum Resident

    I used to wonder why UTMW sounded so uninspired live until I read that Richard was replaced by a session drummer for just that one song in the studio. the very basic drum track is too constricting for him, I think.
     
  22. JeffMo

    JeffMo Format Agnostic

    Location:
    New England
    Played the LP again last night and it reminded me that I was missing this thread!
     
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  23. dobyblue

    dobyblue Forum Resident

  24. stenway

    stenway Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
  25. celticbob

    celticbob Forum Resident

    Never read this thread so apologies if this was posted before but Music On Vinyl are reissuing this LP soon if it hasn't already been.
     
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