The Comsat Angels
he nebulous grapevine of internet intrigue often dispenses suitably ethereal fruit. Usually it has the unmistakable aroma of message board meta-drama or scandalous video footage of the rich and not-so-famous. In this instance, however, it smells just like the questionable origin of an attractive four CD collection; comprising the first three Comsat Angels albums (1980-1982) and a single bonus disc of rare material. The human nose is quite a marvellously accurate thing, isn’t it?
It’s History, you see, may be a bootleg. Or it may not be. Despite looking fabulous in a deerstalker and maintaining a healthy interest in opium, I am not Sherlock Holmes. My sleuthing skills merely extend to an internet source (the dizzying heights of factual accuracy, naturally) which suggested this set could be less than official. The discovery disheartened me somewhat, as I didn’t particularly enjoy thinking about the band receiving absolutely no cash whatsoever from my purchase. Nevertheless, with Polydor alleged to be typically disinterested in re-issuing early Comsat material, this box set is currently the only method of acquiring copies of Waiting For A Miracle, Sleep No More and Fiction. Which is, as a music lover, something you should be wanting to do. If your conscience allows.
The Comsat Angels are yet another of those bands who mysteriously managed to elude huge success. They may also be the only band to ever have been pressured into briefly changing their name (to Dream Command) by The Communications Satellite Inc. company. What kind of logic was behind that, I wonder? It shows a rather strange contempt for people when you no longer trust them to differentiate between four blokes from Sheffield playing some moody post-punk tunes and your large, satellite-based communications company. Despite such setbacks the Comsats managed a modest radio hit in the form of “Independence Day”; a song wonderfully indicative of their style, showcasing tense, somewhat minimalist arrangements and nervy lyrics.
Listening to these albums back-to-back sows the budding seeds of realisation that the group’s body of work is, in fact, tremendously consistent. Something of a Holy Trinity, even. Except probably less blasphemous than that. Each is densely atmospheric throughout, without ever sliding into the dangerous realms of melodrama, and decorated with beautiful interplay between subtle keyboard washes and restrained guitar flourishes. From the alienated sparseness of Waiting For A Miracle, to the hints of redemption on Fiction, via the heavily reverberating gloom of Sleep No More; this is a magnificent trilogy. Moreover, the tracklistings (perhaps rather suspiciously) identically recreate the long-since-vanished RPM reissues, which generously appended various tasty slices from the B-sides and rarities pie. There was obviously some overspill from this luscious pastry as a whole disc of additional demo material is also included. As might be expected it sounds rather rough in places, but still serves as a suitably interesting curiosity.
But is this a bootleg? I’m still unsure. If you feel bad about buying it, I can only suggest promising to yourself that you’ll purchase a veritable truckload of official copies should the band/record company/mysterious musical elves of reissue mountain ever get around to producing some. It was a considerable tragedy that these seminal albums were unavailable for so long. We should listen while we have the chance, or risk losing access to this marvellous Post-Punk triad all over again.
Reviewed by: Peter Parrish
Reviewed on: 2004-04-07