The Comsat Angels
My Minds Eye / The Glamour
B / B+
wo things shine, beacon-like, from this latest pair of Comsat Angels reissues. Primarily, that the band closed their career with considerable strength, as both records contain moments on a par with previous peaks from the Sleep No More era. These qualities are emphasized thanks, in part, to the second thing—a fine demonstration of the art of reissuing provided by Renascent. Some labels approach this process as if it were a tiresome spring-cleaning chore, refusing to lift the ornaments when dusting and shovelling grime underneath the rug in order to present an illusion of renewal. Renascent apply themselves like diligent elves on performance-related contracts from their workshop overlords. Not only do they clean the room properly, they also raid the attic for long-forgotten items and may even rearrange the furniture to create a more aesthetically pleasing layout. In an age where some releases can’t even balance the sound levels on the bonus tracks, such deftly-handled reissues are more than welcome.
Precisely charting the progression of the Comsats’ sound is quite tricky. Having begun with a triplicate of moody, post-punk efforts (often considered their best work), their next batch of releases came under pressure from outside influences. Meddling record companies, enforced name-changes, and a certain amount of label-hopping presumably did not aid the writing process. Though there are plenty of tracks worthy of interest from this “wilderness” era, it feels as though My Minds Eye (and later The Glamour) represent a re-emergence of sorts; the point at which the band grabbed back complete creative control. Consequently, these albums sound like a resonant echo of the early ‘80s records played through a cunning machine which adds the beneficial aspects of their mixed mid-period, a touch of experimentation, and some chunkier guitar riffs. A fine and bountiful combination indeed.
Of the two, the not-totally-unavailable-if-you-hunted-carefully-for-it My Minds Eye receives the most conventional touch-up. Even this goes the extra distance though, because as well as the usual appending of b-sides, the record is re-sequenced (replacing the previous vinyl-focused track order) and alternative mixes are parachuted in to replace certain songs. Without the inclusion of the original mixes right at the end of the album, I’m not sure whether many would spot that escapist road odyssey “Driving” had particularly changed. It has. The alternative take feels more spacious, in keeping with the open highway nature of the beast; whereas the original has a less impressive snare beat and more echoey vocals. So now you know.
“Field of Tall Flowers (acoustic mix)” provides a much easier spot the difference contest, and again makes sense as a replacement. Placed directly between the sprawling, low-tempo “I Come from the Sun” and angular, grunge-tinged “Route 666,” a toned down version of the already wistful “Field” creates an excellent transition. This sort of build-and-release appears throughout, demonstrated by the shimmering yet somber “Shiva Descending” being paired with the distorted vocals and unleashed feedback squeals of the title track.
Amidst the bonus bonanza, “Too Much Time” is probably the pick—detailing the dispiriting number of hours available after a breakup with something of a jaunty swagger (piano chords are being bouncily ridden in the background). Only “My Minds Eye (the wind, the bass, the drums)” feels unnecessary, supplying an instrumental version which is too stripped-back and empty to really impress.
The Glamour (seemingly out of print until now) picks up the thematic baton from My Minds Eye—especially the dabbling in lengthier tracks and a tendency for a rougher edge to take precedence—and decorates it with a few other flourishes as it runs. To call the 2007 version a “reissue” almost underplays the extent to which it has been altered. The album now spans two discs, with the original tracklisting scattered between both to create a true double-album. A total of seven additional tunes bump each CD up to ten apiece; and this doesn’t even include a couple of specifically remastered efforts. In truth, the release is halfway towards being a brand new record—with sleeve-note assurance from the Comsats’ own Steve Fellows that “this is much closer to the way it should have been.”
Splitting the album in this fashion turns out to be a rather fine idea. Whereas the original configuration may have suffered from a touch of bloating (wandering a fair distance past the 60 minute mark), these two trim chunks of 40+ minutes each are handily digestible and free to be experienced separately. The main clock-bothering epics have been evenly distributed, with the overcast trip down the tunnel of mortality “Oblivion” appearing on disc 1 and the initially blissed-out “Spaced” hopping to disc 2. As things progress however, “Spaced” builds a menacing edge—until the repeated astronomy conundrum “why is the sun so high?” is being bellowed out in a manner which suggests urgent intervention from Patrick Moore may be required. Ultimately though, the band are spent from their chaotic whirling exertions and allow matters to rest with a mellow expression of keyboard sounds.
The aforementioned cluster of unreleased material does a magnificent job in supplying enough musical gold to make this double-delight possible. Someone really went to town with their flanger pedal (or possible phaser, it’s hard to be sure) in order to create the pulsating backdrop to “The Niala Game,” whose foreground rises and shifts in response—as if carried along on crackling electric waves. Elsewhere, “Slayer of the Real” belies claims of demo status in order to deliver a sparse, yet thoroughly polished closer to the second disc. Placed alongside existing efforts like the swirling, beguiling “Psychedelic Dungeon” or the pop-gone-a-bit-wrong “Audrey in Denim,” each new addition serves to reinvigorate what had already been a top-notch single disc release.
In the end, it’s all about exciting pairings. Renascent and the Comsat Angels. My Minds Eye and The Glamour. Pre-existing Glamour material and unearthed gems. Each directly contributing something to the other. But the final important pairing may be yet to come: a Comsat Angels reissue, and you.
Reviewed by: Peter Parrish
Reviewed on: 2007-02-07