As we've detailed previously here, Second Motion Records is in the midst of reissuing much of Australian alternative music legends The Church's catalog. Following single-disc versions, with bonus tracks, of the quartet's first four LPs, comes this double-disc, stand-alone offering of the band's beloved, best-known album.
Their commercial pinnacle, 1988's Starfish was also a creative peak for a group with a mountain range full of them in their long and varied career. It boasts The Church's signature single, "Under The Milky Way," which charted around the world, including a Top 25 placement in the American Top 40, and was the band's mainstream breakthrough outside of their native land. A whole new generation fell under its spell when it appeared in the cult classic film Donnie Darko in 2001.
Produced in Los Angeles by local studio luminaries Greg Ladanyi and Waddy Wachtel, along with the band, Starfish is polished to a radio-ready sheen -- not necessarily a good thing -- but the songs offer sufficient substance to go with the gloss. Apart from some of the drum sounds, the music is timeless and still feels fresh today, more than two decades since its release.
Put that down to the strength of the material. Lead-off track "Destination" sets a mysterious and melancholy tone and singer/bassist/chief songwriter Steve Kilbey's lyrics throughout the album continue the themes of wanderlust and wander-weariness he began on previous album Heyday.
Guitar alchemists Marty Willson-Piper and Peter Koppes both take lead vocal turns on a song apiece that each penned and Kilbey is at his scathing vocal best on the magnificent one-two punch of "Antenna" and "Reptile," as his bandmates' guitars build and swirl around him.
Naturally, the centerpiece of the disc is the evergreen "Under The Milky Way," and the song encapsulates all that is best about the album and the band itself: terrific guitar interplay, Kilbey's droll delivery of his melancholy lyrics and the setting of a mood that few, if any, bands can match. Its haunting, backward bagpipes solo -- which in written words sounds positively atrocious -- is simply magical.
The generous bonus disc includes nine songs of the same era -- B-sides and unreleased tracks -- and beautiful acoustic renditions of the album's "Antenna," "Spark" and "Milky Way." The non-LP songs are all cut from the same musical cloth as Starfish, except "Warm Spell," an uncharacteristically jaunty tune that sounds more like the work of fellow '80s antipodeans The Go-Betweens than The Church.
Best of all, and like the previous set of reissues in this series, the Starfish two-disc set includes a beautiful and lengthy liner notes essay from guitarist Willson-Piper detailing the making of the album and the band's career at that point. With his mannered wit and insights, it's worth the price of admission alone for longtime fans.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.