Affixed to the front of the jewel case to my copy of Gold Afternoon Fix is a sticker. Upon it is printed the following: "Strawberry Fields $7.79." Strawberry Fields was a music store and coffee house that existed at the corner of Market and Main Street in Potsdam, New York from 1998 until they moved in 2010. A Google search brings up listings for the place at its "new" address, but otherwise no indication that they are actually still open. In any case, I grabbed my copy of the disc from the store's "used bin" sometime in 2004 (I can't remember exactly when). I do know that I'd travelled up to Northern New York for my friends' wedding, a marriage which, upon reflection, lasted as long as The Church's commercial success after Starfish.
Released February 22nd, 1990, Gold Afternoon Fix was The Church's second album for Arista Records and sixth LP overall. Apparently it had a troubled birth – mostly due to executive meddling. It also might not have helped that the group was suffering from internal friction as well – drummer Richard Ploog was out of the band once the album was recorded. Add to that Marty Wilson-Piper having one of his guitars stolen (a 12-string Rickenbacker) and it's enough to irritate and frustrate any band.
Irritation and frustration can make for great music – but one has to get their stupid record label out of the way for anyone to hear it. Arista vetoed the band's decision to hire John Paul Jones to produce the LP, opting to use Waddy Wachtel again. The production isn't poor by any stretch of the imagination, but I wonder what it would have sounded like if the band had been allowed to pursue their vision.
As it stands, Gold Afternoon Fix is a pretty good album but not one that dug it's hooks into me like Starfish did. "Pharoah" opens the set on a grinding, menacing note that is just incredible. Yes! More like this! I think to myself before being plunged into "Metropolis," the first single from the album. Unfortunately, what is actually a good song makes for a poor follow-up to such a strong opener. At the very least, I'd have it swap places in the sequence with the absolutely stunning post-apocalyptic extra-terrestrial fantasy that is "Terra Nova Cain."
Available only on the compact disc version of the album, "Monday Morning" is a lovely little waltz that flows nicely into second single "Russian Autumn Heart." Third single "You're Still Beautiful" sounds like The Church at their cockiest and most sarcastic. It's an interesting song because it stands out as not sounding like anything else the band has ever done, yet still fitting in somehow.
The next song, "Disappointment" sounds like The Church listened to a bunch of records by The Beatles before recording it. In it I hear echoes of "Because," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and a distant call of "Strawberry Fields Forever." At the same time it also seems like the cousin to The Church's own "Destination." It's a bit of a shame that this song doesn't seem to have one…it meanders over six minutes. It could have been a great closer (for side A or side B), but at the tail end of the second third of the album it doesn't quite work.
By the same token, the next song, "Transient" would have been a really good opener for side B, but as the start of the final third of the album I find the transition just jarring.
Gold Afternoon Fix runs for less than a hour, but it feels much longer. Starfish is a tight ten tracks that one breezes right through – the kind of album where you look up and say, "oh? It's over already?" The album's closer, "Grind" is an appropriate finale to the set (mirroring opener "Pharoah") but it takes a bit of determination to get there.
I wonder if Arista had been more hands-off and just let the band do their thing I'd be listening to a tighter, more cohesive album right now. The band themselves have claimed that the rough demos are better than the studio set, so I'd be curious to get my hands on those to give them a listen.
After this, The Church would release two more LPs for Arista, fulfilling their contract with the label. Priest=Aura and Sometime Anywhere didn't get much in the way of label push though. On the upside, there seemed to be less executive meddling after Gold Afternoon Fix however. The Church returned to an indie label for Magician Among the Spirits.