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Comsat Angels : Profile
Author: Denzil Watson
Published: 12/02/2007

London based Renascent Records, specialists in re-issuing classic 80's music on CD, have recently been getting to grips with Sheffield post-punk four piece the Comsat Angels. With a career spanning three decades, the Comsats first came to prominence in the 80's with their Polydor debut LP 'Waiting for a Miracle' and talismanic single 'Independence Day'. Their atmospheric, gothic tinged gloom rock, reminiscent of Joy Division, the Dance Society and the Church, certainly struck a chord with Joe Public back then. Joint headline tours with a fledgling U2 pointed to a bright future, and despite being dropped by Polydor in 1983, two further majors, Jive and Island, saw potential in the Comsats. Again both labels failed to bring their brooding soundscapes to a bigger audience and by 1995, with no less than eight studio albums under their belt, the group finally disbanded. Sadly their lack of chart success, a string of poor commercial decisions and downright bad luck blighted the band as they failed to fulfil their early potential and scale the heights the likes of U2 went on to reach.

With copies of the Comsats' first three albums changing hands for upwards of £30, Renascent stepped in and started to re-reissue their extensive back catalogue in 2006. Renascent have now gone on to issue all their albums along with compilation and radio session albums to boot. The first of the final salvo under consideration here is 'To Before' (REN CD18) - a compilation of demos, out-takes and other rarities from 1978-1993. Boasting 24 tracks over two CDs and 17 previously unreleased recordings, the varying sound quality means that it is of interest to Comsats completists. CD1 contains early demos from the late 70's and early 80's and, if we're being honest, it's pretty heavy going. In the main it's the sound of a band yet to find their direction as they see-saw between new wave and new romantic. The Elvis Costello-tinged 'Work' and three angular tracks from 1979's debut single 'Red Planet' are perhaps the only things of real merit here. The improved sound quality of the second disc proves momentary relief (only on 'You Move Me' does the quality dip). It also finds the band heading off in a totally different and altogether more commercial direction, perhaps with one eye on the US stadium circuit. The polished production, cheesy synth lines and echoing ethereal guitar lines show that the Comsats' morphed into radio friendly Flock of Seagulls clones in later life. 'I.K.T.F..' has dated rather poorly and is a mish-mash of keyboard stabs. It's not all doom and gloom though. Mission sound-a-like 'She's Invisible' with its anthemic chorus and driving bass line, the tribal tub thumping of 'Under The Influence' and the Will Sergeant inspired guitar-work on 'Venus Hunter' provide a few rays of hope.

Second up is the re-ordered and repackaged album 'My Mind's Eye' (REN19), faited as Comsats' main man Steve Fellows' favourite album. From the initial bars of the muscular guitar operatics of opening track 'Driving' it's easy to see why. Time has been kind to their fifth studio album which must haverepresented something of a rebirth from a band eleven years into their career. Recorded and self-produced in their native Sheffield in 1991 and released via Thunderbird the following year, it shows their trancy space rock at its most majestic, delivered by a band at the peak of their powers. It's impossible not to be moved by the sheer effortlessness and ethereal beauty of 'Beautiful Monster' and the 'Shiva Dancing' and epic urgency the title track. It's also an album at peace with itself - gone are Mik Glaisher's awkward staccato drums rhythms, replaced by rolling hypnotic beats. Gone too are the clashes between Fellows guitar lines and Andy Peak's keyboard stabs: karma has well and truly been restored. The only weakness is perhaps the lack of a standout single or two - a fact that surely hindered the commercial success of the album. That aside it's a masterful album, thankfully resurrected from the vaults of obscurity by Renascent.

Finally we come to the deluxe double CD reissue of 'The Glamour' (REN20), originally released back in 1995 by the band in their last phase as a 5-piece and minus founding bassist Kevin Bacon. Representing more of a revamp than a straight reissue, it transforms the LP into a form Steve Fellows considers to be "much closer to how it should have sounded". In the main, the ethereal swathes of sound that characterised earlier Comsat releases are less prominent, replaced by a harder edged rockier, dare I say it, grungier sound: a reminder of just how far and wide the influence of Nirvana stretched back in the early 90's (checkout CD1's closing track 'Demon Lover' and CD2's title track 'The Glamour'). It is also hard not to draw parallels with the path followed by Aussie prog-rockers the Church. And while it doesn't quite scale the sonic and emotional heights reached by 'My Mind's Eye', 'The Glamour' is still a worthy excursion into the territory of moody psychedelic rock. The crawling mantra of 'Pacific Ocean Blues' certainly hits the spot and the clock bothering 'Oblivion' with its discordant guitar motifs is another unsettling gem. At this stage one could also be excused for wondering whether Fellows and co had been on the mind expanding drugs a little too long given some of the song titles ('Audrey in Denim' and 'A Song Called Dave' anybody?). Despite boasting the fine title track and the initially beautiful meanderings of 'Spaced', things do flag a little on CD2. Perhaps with hindsight the inclusion of the eight unreleased recordings (including five unreleased tracks) has diluted the effect of the original album, leaving us with the Comsats' 'Sandinista' rather than their 'London Calling'. Nevertheless 'The Glamour', regardless of final form, ensured that the Comsats bowed out with a bang rather than a whimper.

So there you have it. Three Comsat Angels reissues from Renascent. A voluminous out-takes double CD for hardcore fans, their finest albumremastered and repackaged for the uninitiated and a double CD for their fifth and final LP for the newly converted. Something there for everybody.

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