The Comsat Angels
Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones: BBC Sessions 1979-1984
1992 / 2006
ndependence Day”; that’s the key. For once the minor hit aims deadly and true, lighting up the mind with the incandescent flare of revelation. Yes, THIS is what the Comsat Angels are all about: “I can't relax 'cause I haven't done a thing / And I can't do a thing 'cause I can't relax.” Just two simple lines. The surrounding trimmings are certainly important, outlining as they do a kind of extended human-body-as-nation-state metaphor, but those words are the heart of the beast. They’re the essence. Not just a fantastically succinct summary of that gnawing, familiar procrastination feeling, but the implied invocation of restlessness. Of nervous energy. Of the twitchy, anxious, traumas of life.
Ah, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves ...
Sheffield. City of steel. City of trams. City of Sean Bean. City of steel trams being ridden by Sean Bean to swashbuckling victory over stereotypical Frenchmen at Waterloo. More importantly, in this instance, City of the frankly quite stupendously marvellous Comsat Angels. It would be customary at this point to mention how underrated, influential, and yet strangely unknown this group are—but such things have been said so often, it’s hard to quantify exactly how unknown they remain. The larger problem has always been that, despite the occasional burst of critical praise rightly directed towards them, the greatest Comsats albums tended to flicker in and out of availability like an erratic neon sign—one which usually remained stubbornly off. We knew how good they were supposed to be, we just couldn’t buy the records.
Secretly, some people probably preferred this. How delicious to have special, insider knowledge of this band—available only to a select few who knew precisely where to search for stray pressings of old reissues or other, more dubious sources of this mythical material. Of course, this is a terrible attitude to hold and benefits none but the selfish few. The Comsat Angels are not one of those bands sustained purely upon the strength of an engineered “cult” status and unsupported by any actual talent; their reputation persists because they play a brand of ball-shakingly brilliant, doomy-gloom music in the key of E minor. This is a fact not lost on Renascent, who have benevolently spread their arms and reoffered the outstanding first three albums and the equally distinguished BBC Sessions disc to the world. Of course you should already know all about the other three, thanks to my esteemed Stylus colleague. Not read that yet? Meet back here when you have.
Sound exciting, don’t they?
Naturally, I’m going to suggest that you buy this one too. In fact, if your pocket can only stretch to a single release or you merely wish to dip a tentative toe, Time Considered... is the way forward. Not only will you grab a panoramic tour of various highlights from the aforementioned trilogy of excellence, some quality non-album tracks and a surprising (yet welcome) cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Citadel”—but also a handful of far superior versions of songs from the ill-fated “pop direction” that would take place after Fiction. Indeed, as is so often the case with BBC radio sessions, you’ll no doubt find yourself enjoying certain other arrangements even more than their studio counterparts. In that respect, this collection almost functions as an evolved “Best Of” set. Not only does it touch the relevant bases, those bases are sufficiently different in performance that further investigation of the records they are plucked from will not be spoiled by worrisome duplication of material.
Conversely, if you already own the other albums there’s still a captivating argument to hear everything here. Though the drumming on tracks from Sleep No More isn’t quite so magnificent (I guess the BBC wouldn’t let them record near the lifts), the levels of fidgety paranoia and themes of general unease feel heightened by the all-but-live nature of the setting and, perhaps, the pressures of time.
“Independence Day,” though; that’s the key. Not in the sense that it stands above anything else on this near-flawless package, merely that it seems to distil everything Comsats into a few perfect minutes. According to the sleeve notes accompanying the original issue of this disc (the track listing of which has not been altered), Comsats mainman Steve Fellows was never happy with any of the recorded versions of the track and didn’t particularly wish for it to appear. I’m glad he relented. You will be, too.