Happy Anniversary

thekickinsidestarfish

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.

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13 Responses to Happy Anniversary

  1. echomanstl says:

    “Starfish” was the Church album you used to indoctrinate me 15 years ago, and it’s still a record I find mesmerizing, inviting, mysterious, weird and warm. Aural comfort blanket is a perfectly apt metaphor. To this date, “Destination” transports me back to the cracked streets of decaying downtown Cape Girardeau, the sights of crumbling brick and damp alleys bizarrely yet sensibly melding with Kilbey’s koan-like lyrics and Marty’s chiming & droning guitar figures. Man! This is an album I know every note and word of by heart, and it never ever gets old. Finding that vinyl copy on my birthday last year also remains a treat.

    • HippyDave says:

      Mate, I am made up that you grokked The Church right out of the box (of birds). Of all the people I’ve introduced to the band, you have unquestionably been one of the ones that really *saw* what made them so special to me. I can foresee much discussion in and around this particular topic during your upcoming visit ;-).

      • echomanstl says:

        *Nice* reference. 🙂 And I have to credit you for choosing the perfect introductory album in “Starfish” – it’s the same one I use as a ‘gateway’ to the band’s greater catalog. Its mix of accessibility and spiritual/emotional/lyrical/musical depth makes it unbeatable in that regard.

        My top 5 Church albums (today) would be something like: “Priest=Aura” (got it on right now as a matter of fact), “After Everything Now This”, “Untitled #23”, “Further/Deeper”, and, it has to be said, “Starfish”.

        I greatly look forward to waxing poetic about the guys next month! This is a band that has spoke to me since the first time I heard them – I always felt as if Kilbey was a conduit between this world and another realm. Like…his lyrics, coupled with the band’s music, were expressions in our spacetime of wordless, spiritual ideas from another dimension. Which I’m sure makes *zero* sense. But I’ll bet it will coupled with a pint of real ale here soon…

      • echomanstl says:

        To employ a reference from another shared area of interest…it’s something like the allegories and allusions with which the Prophets spoke to/through Sisko.

      • HippyDave says:

        Yes! That’s exactly right, and very apropos, given our mutual DS9 fandom. Steve’s lyrics are dreamlike, and yet grittily tangible; heavily layered with meaning, yet direct. There’s a lot of mythology in there, but also a great deal of dirt-under-the-fingernails reality. There’s a lot of clever wordplay, but not so much that the irresistible melodic sense of the words is lost. I always sit there stunned when I hear songs for the first time, and I’m still stunned hundreds of listens later, usually because I’m picking up on stuff that went right over my head before. Just one of the many reasons I love this band :-).

  2. Nlocnil says:

    Another convert via Starfish. Someone had given me a copy of a B52’s CD. So I ventured over to an older friend’s (he was 18 I was 14) house as he had the only CD player I knew of. I dubbed the B52’s album so I could access it on cassette. He put on Starfish afterward, maybe it was the contrast, and I was blown away. It’s a true album. I’ve been hooked ever since. Looking forward to Denver next month. Yes I bootlegged it at the time (recording over the B52s) but have since repented having baptized myself in a piles Church albums incl. starfish.

    • HippyDave says:

      Good stuff (geddit?) – always great to hear another tale of the instant and lasting power of The Church’s music to move new listeners. (I always loved the B-52s as well.)

  3. Brivvegas says:

    Great Post dude. Starfish is not their best record but like you has some of my favorite Church songs. It is the best entry point when introducing the non converted into the fold..

    • HippyDave says:

      Thanks! I’ve found that, too – it’s an easy listen for the Church novice and forms a crossroads between the more New Wave-y stuff that proceeded it and the increasingly psychedelic stuff that developed from what followed. Everyone’s on killer form and it’s beautifully produced. It’s a classic, however you slice it; and the feedback has usually been encouraging (see Mike’s post, above!) 🙂

  4. Beautiful 😊
    I love all of them (and there are so many) but Starfish is my favorite Church album, and one of the two best album ever (together with Marillion’s Misplaced Childhood)!
    What’s your favorite Church’s album then?

    • HippyDave says:

      Like you, I love ’em all – picking favourites is a bit like choosing your favourite internal organ :-). I’ll settle for a top 5 (and even that is subject to change, depending on my mood): currently, it’d be “Uninvited, Like The Clouds”, “Priest=Aura”, “After Everything Now This”, “Heyday” and “Further/Deeper”.(in no particular order). There’s not a single album they’ve released that I don’t love, though – they are uncommonly and consistently superb, every new record a delight.

      Always good to hear some Marillion love, too. There’s another band I could wax endlessly enthusiastic about (and frequently do) :-).

  5. FatHooker says:

    Agree with the sentiments about Kate Bush. Like The Church she continues to make brilliant music to this day (e.g. 50 Words For Snow) and suggest the band agrees, given they have recently covered her song “The Hounds Of Love” – and very nicely too.

    As for favourites, can I nominate “Blurred Crusade” and “After Everything ….”

    • HippyDave says:

      Yeah, I’m a big fan of their treatment of Hounds Of Love. Steve is clearly almost as fond of her as I am :-).

      Always good to see some love for After Everything Now This – I’ll never forget the review of that album in Uncut magazine, where they asserted that The Church sounded like a pale shadow of themselves throughout. Riiiiiight…

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