1980-81 was a period in music when I really started discovering new things and there’s a good few records from that time that were so important in shaping my tastes.
Two of these – ‘Waiting for a Miracle’ and ‘Sleep No More’ by the Comsat Angels – have just been re-released by Demon as part of a four album deluxe double CD reissue series that covers the band’s tenures on both Polydor and Island Records.
With several reissues of the Polydor material in the past, there’s not a huge amount of extra material on the three albums but the sound quality on these releases is much better than the original CD reissues on R.P.M. and there’s no doubt that, with the extra tracks, these constitute the definitive versions of the albums.
Let’s have a look at the four reissues.
Polydor era (1980-1982)
The Comsats’ first three albums on Polydor, ‘Waiting For A Miracle’, ‘Sleep No More’ and ‘Fiction’ are often regarded as the band’s high watermarks and not without reason (although the band’s last couple of albums from the 1990s also merit consideration). In general, the band were critical darlings during these years and the music justifies their reputation.
Listening to the three albums again after a few years debut ‘WFAM’ has lost none of its impact. It may have a minimal sound but it remains one hell of a powerful record anda features the band’s bset known song ‘Independence Day’:
‘SNM’ with its far denser sound is ferocious but my impression is that the second side of the album isn’t quite as strong as the first.
Third LP Fiction’ is generally the least well regarded of the band’s Polydor output but interestingly it’s the one in the set which exceeds my expectations. It’s certainly a lighter sound than SNM but, whereas I used to have little time for some of the songs on the second side of the record, I seem to appreciate them more this time around.
It might be slightly controversial to say so but taken as a whole these records stand up as a body of work against any other bands of the era.
What’s on the CDs?
WFAM is the fullest package of the set too including 7 non-album tracks (including, I think for the first time on CD the band’s debut E.P.) as well as 4 demos and two full John Peel sessions of which four tracks are released for the first time.
Again on SNM the extra tracks (16 in all) are worthwhile particularly the brilliant ‘Eye of the Lens’ E.P.. But only 1 of the 8 session tracks included has not previously been released.
In terms of ‘Fiction’ there’s as many non-LP tracks on this release as on the others (including the two terrific but very different non-LP singles (Do The) Empty House and ‘It’s History’) but there’s only the one Peel session, two of the songs from which are previously unreleased.
Signed at the same time as both the Triffids and Julian Cope, it’s not clear quite what Island were expecting from the band. And this lack of direction is apparent on the ‘Chasing Shadows’ reissue.
Whilst there’s an attempt to portray ‘Chasing Shadows’ as some sort of lost gem, unfortunately time hasn’t changed my view that it’s quite possibly the band’s weakest collection of songs.
On a positive note, after the Jive era, it does like the band were finally making the sort of record that they wanted to but, for my money, the only song that stands up to the band’s best work is the single ‘The Cutting Edge’. The rest of the album is mostly decent but is mired too much in its very 80s production (particularly the turgid ‘Flying Dreams’).
What’s on the CDs?
There’s only 1 extra track on the main CD – the excellent B-side ‘Something’s Got To Give’ which would have improved the album had it been included. However not included is the other track from the ‘Cutting Edge’ 12” a re-recording of ‘Our Secret’.
However things do get really interesting with the second disc which is devoted to a first time U.K release for the album that the band recorded for legal reasons as Dream Command – ‘Fire On The Moon’.
In the end FOTM was only given a limited release by Island in the U.S. and the Netherlands as a contractual obligation before being immediately deleted and only a couple of tracks have had an official U.K. release on a compilation since.
FOTM has a reputation as an absolute turkey which means that my expectations could not have been any lower. Yet I was surprised how decent it actually is.
It’s fair to say that, even more than its predecessor, this album shows a band confused by record company expectations. And certainly like ‘Chasing Shadows’ it suffers from its production.
But I’d have to say that song-wise, there are as many good songs on here as on its predecessor. It’s by no means a classic but it actually provides a clear signpost that leads quite directly to the Comsats’ late period classic ‘My Mind’s Eye’.
These reissues do a good job of presenting the two very different eras in the band’s history.
I’d suggest that, if you have an interest in post-punk and you haven’t heard them, then both ‘Waiting for a Miracle’ and ‘Sleep No More’ are essential purchases with ‘Fiction’ not too far behind.
‘Chasing Shadows’ is really going to only appeal to Comsats’ completists yet, if they’ve not heard it before, fans may be surprised by the second disc ‘Fire On The Moon’.
The albums are all available as four 2 CD sets and on 5 vinyl LPs (The Dream Command album gets a separate release). However the bonus material is only available on CD.
The Comsats reformed in 2009 for a short series of dates. Although I had a ticket for the Glasgow show, we subsequently arranged a holiday at the same time so I missed the show. Here’s live song of ‘The Cutting Edge’ from that series of dates:
Previously on MPT – The Comsat Angels retrospective
And this very recent interview with Stephen Fellows is good value: