I missed The Church the first time around. They hit their peak as I was putting down my pointy bass and taking off my spandex pants for the last time. By the time I discovered the groups who got played on LA's KROQ, Starfish had been out of regular rotation for a year or two.
I can't say I missed a lot, though. Starfish is a good album, but I don't think The Church was doing anything particularly unique. Having heard U2 and The Cure and Peter Murphy and The Mission UK and New Model Army and Midnight Oil and The Waterboys, I pretty much heard everything The Church did. Sure, they had a link to jangly bands like The Byrds, but so did The La's... and The Church certainly never wrote "There She Goes." (Although I have to admit, the guitar intro on "Reptile" is pretty awesome!)
The Church falls somewhere between Joshua Tree-era U2 and Peter Murphy on the continuum of post-new-wave alternative. The guitar playing is like a less innovative version of The Edge, and the brooding vocals are fairly typical for the not-quite goth bands of the late '80s. The production is dated, but it's not mired in cheap effects and tacky keyboard swells. The lyrics aren't as smart or poetic as they try to be, but that's a forgivable sin in context of some very good songs. The melodies are strong and the performances are solid, albeit a bit dull. "Spark" doesn't fit with the rest of the music, but it's the only major failure on the album. All in all, Starfish is a good but unessential record that holds up remarkably well 20 years after its release.
Eh. The (presumably) handwritten text on the cover is charismatic, but otherwise the package is pretty typical for its era. Grainy black & white photos, lame liner notes, missing lyrics, moody halftone images in the background... been there, done that.
Listen if you like: Any of the bands I mentioned up in the second paragraph. If you love any or all of those bands and you don't know The Church, you really should check this out.
If it were food, it'd be: A seafood dish at a place like Applebee's or TGIFriday's: it's a satisfying but ultimately unoriginal meal.