Two albums that mean a very great deal to me both celebrate their anniversary today. For whatever reason, I’ve never noticed that they were both released on the same day, albeit ten years apart. They are Kate Bush‘s debut album, The Kick Inside, released on 17th February 1978, and The Church‘s fifth ‘proper’ album (don’t ask: unless you’re a fan already, The Church’s back catalogue is a beautiful maze), Starfish, released on 17th February 1988.
My lifelong and ongoing love affair with Kate Bush’s music is something I’ve already posted at great length about – indeed it’s hard to shut me up about Kate Bush for very long, as many have discovered to their cost. Her debut single, Wuthering Heights, was the first record I bought; The Kick Inside was the first full-length album that I bought. So formative were both of these records that I’ve recently written two retrospective pieces for Echoes and Dust about them (the Wuthering Heights piece is here; the Kick Inside piece here). The Kick Inside remains a sentimental favourite, even if Bush went on to surpass it numerous times: in many ways I continue to judge records against it, and most of them come off distinctly second-best. It’s a fearless, diverse and intense record, but it’s beautifully melodic and displays a fierce joy, a plainly deeply-felt thrill in the act of creating and performing, which I’ve always found mesmerising. The songs vary from feisty rock to minimalist piano/vocal duets, but somehow Bush manages to make the whole record flow wonderfully. She was still only 19 when it was released. It remains as captivating now as it was back then, and would have been a staggering achievement even for a veteran act, let alone a young woman making her first record. If you’ve never listened beyond Wuthering Heights, give it a try: you’ll delight in the melodic Moving, swoon at the gorgeous The Man With The Child In His Eyes, laugh along with Them Heavy People and weep to the incredibly bleak title track, which tackles incest and suicide in a (still) shocking and heartbreaking finale.
It was only in 1990 that I heard The Church’s Starfish. I had become aware of the band with their 1990 album Gold Afternoon Fix, after hearing the song Metropolis played on the radio late one evening. In typical fashion, I decided to explore the back catalogue by working my way backwards, which meant Starfish was to be next. I don’t mind telling you, in those pre-internet days, I had real difficulty tracking down a copy, since the band’s albums only ever seemed to be available as imports. This both made them more expensive and much harder to get hold of, since the local indie store didn’t carry imports and couldn’t order them. I’m not sure why I had so much trouble finding copies, since the albums had definitely had domestic releases, but I assume there was probably some bullshit record company reason for it. After drawing a blank in the usual places, I tried a few places in Birmingham (where I would go on the train with friends now and again purely to stock up on harder-to-find records), finally turning up a copy of Starfish at Tempest records (now sadly no longer in business).
Stylistically, it was quite akin to my already-beloved Gold Afternoon Fix, so there was no period of adjustment to a different sound or style – it was love at first listen as I sat there and soaked in what remains a perfectly executed set of fabulous songs. Everyone remembers the album now for the unexpected hit single Under The Milky Way, the song for which the band is principally known, but although I thought (and still do) that that is a great song, it was just one of many. Although Starfish is superb, it’s not my favourite Church album – but some of my favourite songs are on there: the sinister, foreboding Destination; the gorgeous, chiming Lost (which features some of my favourite Steve Kilbey lyrics); the venomous Reptile, with its sinister guitar and wonderful riffy coda; the spiky, energetic Spark; the sunny, rolling rhythm of Antenna, and much-beloved fan favourite Hotel Womb – one of those songs that just makes you feel like you’re ‘home’ when you hear it. The Church have been one of my favourite bands since I first heard them, and Starfish, like so many of their albums, is just a huge, wonderful comfort blanket for me. It’s also the perfect introduction to one of the great unsung bands, a band that has survived all musical trends and continues to make exciting, passionate music to this day. If you’re not heard them before, may I suggest Starfish as the perfect entry point? The sound of all human frailty and passion, trapped under the firmament and struggling to find peace and meaning in the universe, it’s a grim, beautiful, impassioned record with heart to spare.
Happy Anniversary, guys.