Sublime in flashes, this 74-minute compilation from Comet Gain gives the listener too much time to contemplate its nagging flaws.
Punk rock, many will argue, is best left to the young. The minute a perpetrator of the stuff turns 30, he or she runs an ever-increasing risk of becoming the thing he or she hated: an aging poser clinging to his youth with a painful lack of self-awareness.
Although the actual age of David Christian Feck, the only remaining original member and main-creative force behind Comet Gain, remains anyone's guess, one can assume he's approaching a time in his life when it wouldn't be an altogether bad idea for him to ask his physician to probe his bum. Yet the songs on Broken Record Prayers finds Feck longing, lamenting and sloppily letting 'er rip like a kid whose soul is burning in that unmistakable teenage way.
In Feck's defense, with a couple of exceptions, these songs are culled from compilations, singles and sessions recorded between the years 1998 and 2008. During the earlier part of that 10-year period, Feck may still have had a legitimate claim to youth's disaffection. But even though the songs cover a decade, none on Broken Record Prayers sound particularly evolved. In fact, it sounds as if the songs might have been recorded in a garage over a 10-week summer in the early '90s.
It seems Feck views the recording studio as a place where youth springs eternal. Indeed, the best tracks on Broken Record Prayers affirm as genuinely moving tributes to the pain, loss and recklessness unique to adolescence. “You Can Hide Your Love Away” is the first out-and-out stunner. Crafted carelessly in much the same way those early Clean records were (and this collection includes a cover of the Clean's “Beatnik”), it provides a textbook example of what people are talking about when they use the phrase “indie rock”. Instantly familiar sounding in a way all great teenage anthems are, it exudes a quintessentially U.K. daintiness redolent of the Pastels or even Belle and Sebastian.
Comet Gain is better when it's delicate. The raucous numbers -- like the dull, repetitive “Young Lions” and the unfortunately melodramatic “Hard Times” -- sound like a band of needle-limbed middle-school kids trying vainly to sound tough. The only time Feck and his comrades manage to really rock out with success is when they build up to it, like on the winning “Brothers On The Block”, a classic-rock tune with slacker style moored by one of the most-infectious bass lines you'll hear all year.
At 74 minutes, Broken Record Prayers will try the patience of even Comet Gain's most-devoted fans. However, the high points get spread out nicely throughout the album. Just when you're ready to push the eject button, a fine little pop gem comes tumbling through the speakers like a refreshing pint of cheap, ice-cold beer. “Books Of California” categorizes best as pure lie-in-the-sun bliss punctuated by trilling la-la-la-la's that sound as if it pines for a titular destination. “Asleep On The Snow”, a sweetly sorrowful tune, finds Feck's acoustic guitar and voice backed by a bleary keyboard sure to break your heart. These songs, along with the other more-reflective moments on the album, represent Comet Gain at the height of its powers.
Punk rock posturing, on the other hand, doesn't flatter the band. For the most part, neither do the vocals of co-lead singer Rachel Evans, whose flat delivery isn't compensated for by any sort of naïve charm. One exception, the cover of Deena Barnes' “If You Ever Walk Out Of My Life”, finds the band indulging its obvious reverence for Northern Soul, but elsewhere, Evans is a liability.
Feck, on the other hand, is an exceptionally talented songwriter. It's thanks to him that Comet Gain often gets called things like “underrated” and “overlooked”. But it would serve him well to embrace the next stage of his life, much like Robert Forster of the Go-Betweens or even Robyn Hitchcock. Feck could be worthy of the company of those superior songsmiths -- he'll just need to stop slumming with the punks to make his ascension.