Music

Revisiting Dream Pop Past with Pale Saints on 'The Comforts of Madness'

Straining to be heard over the noise of a 1,000 over-effected electric guitars, are Pale Saints the lost champions of shoegaze?

The Comforts of Madness (30th Anniversary Remaster)
Pale Saints

4AD

17 January 2020

Happy 30th birthday to The Comforts of Madness. By now, you really should have settled down, got a proper job, a sensible haircut, and maybe even a kid or two. Instead, you're still banging on that guitar, singing too quietly, and being My Bloody Valentine's lesser-known half-brother. Is the world desperate to hear from you again after 30 years? In all honesty, probably not, but you are rather interesting.

The UK music scene at the end of the 1980s was a mixed bag of the good, the bad, and the improbable. Somewhere, tucked between rave culture and the twee pop boom that made cardigans and 501's the de rigueur fashion choice of undergraduates across the land, was shoegaze. In the US, this was rebranded as dream pop – a far more romantic appellation, I'm sure you'll agree. And this is where we met Pale Saints. The Comforts of Madness was their first and most successful album, climbing to the anchor position of the UK top 40 in 1990. It may be harsh to say that only a handful of people were desperate to hear it again, but here it is anyway, the original album's 11 tracks, swelled by a further 16 demos and radio sessions.

The Comforts of Madness is almost the dictionary definition of a shoegaze record. The guitars are either fuzzed or flanged to the high heavens, the drums thump along dependably, and the bass is walloped with a plectrum. What about the vocals? Well, in true shoegaze fashion, they're almost indecipherable, sung as if by a choirboy (imagine Morrissey at his most fey) and buried at the bottom of the mix. On the bonus tracks on this expanded version of the album, the vocals are more prominent and they work a lot better. These tracks also have a sense of urgency that is missing from the "proper" album.

The album starts with a frantic drum tattoo, quickly settling into a narcotic fog that hangs over all 11 songs. It takes until the third track, "Sea of Sound" -- could it be a more shoegazey title? -- before things get interesting. Despite the vocal melody threatening to turn into "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)" on several occasions, it manages to achieve the intensity that the band were reaching for. Drums are used judiciously, and the guitars ebb and flow in a beautifully controlled way. It's gorgeous.

"Language of Flowers" steals a Peter Hook bassline and grafts it to neat, pop tune. It's here that you really wish that vocalist, Ian Masters had more depth to his voice, as this could have been a bit of a classic. It's still pretty damn good, it has to be said. "Fell from the Sun" comes a close second in the race to be the albums' definitive track and has a drive that some of the other tunes on the record lack. And a great guitar solo, too.

The rest of the record ambles along carelessly, with only isolated moments generating any interest. The demo versions on CD2 of the package, are clearer and stronger, with the claustrophobic, big studio production removed. They breathe more, the melodies are further to the front, and they're just better. In this instance, less is very much more.

This expanded, deluxe version of The Comforts of Madness will make some people very happy indeed. They'll finally be able to retire their cassette recording of the John Peel session tracks and the woolly sounding bootleg of the demos they proudly display alongside the band's three albums. Will it make any new converts to the cause? I doubt it. As a curio from one of the most unsettled times in UK music (pre-grunge and post indie), it's interesting, from an academic rock nerd's perspective. For everyone else, if you're looking for an album that has all the hallmarks of a musical movement but only some of the flair of the leading lights of that scene, here it is. Warts and all.

6
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Learning to Take a Picture: An Interview With Inara George

Inara George is unafraid to explore life's more difficult and tender moments. Discussion of her latest music, The Youth of Angst, leads to stories of working with Van Dyke Parks and getting David Lee Roth's musical approval.

Music

Country Westerns Bask in an Unparalleled Sound and Energy on Their Debut

Country Westerns are intent on rejecting assumptions about a band from Nashville while basking in an unparalleled sound and energy.

Film

Rediscovering Japanese Director Tomu Uchida

A world-class filmmaker of diverse styles, we take a look at Tomu Uchida's very different Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji and The Mad Fox.

Music

The Charlatans' 'Between 10th and 11th' Gets a Deluxe Edition

Not even a "deluxe" version of Between 10th and 11th from the Charlatans can quite set the record straight about the maligned-but-brilliant 1992 sophomore album.

Reviews

'High Cotton' Is Culturally Astute and Progressive

Kristie Robin Johnson's collection of essays in High Cotton dismantle linear thinking with shrewdness and empathy.

Reviews

Lianne La Havas Is Reborn After a Long Layoff

British soul artist Lianne La Havas rediscovers herself on her self-titled new album. It's a mesmerizing mix of spirituality and sensuality.

Reviews

PC Nackt Deconstructs the Classics with 'Plunderphonia'

PC Nackt kicks off a unique series of recordings dedicated to creating new music by "plundering" unexpected historical sources such as classical piano pieces or chamber orchestra music.

Music

Counterbalance 24: The Doors - 'The Doors'

Before you slip into unconsciousness, Counterbalance has put together a few thoughts on the Doors' 1967 debut album. It's number 24 on the Big List.

Reading Pandemics

Parable Pandemics: Octavia E. Butler and Racialized Labor

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, informed by a deep understanding of the intersectionality of dying ecologies, disease, and structural racism, exposes the ways capitalism's insatiable hunger for profit eclipses humanitarian responses to pandemics.

Television

'Tiger King' and the Post-Truth Culture War

Tiger King -- released during and dominating the streaming-in-lockdown era -- exemplifies in real-time the feedback loop between entertainment and ideology.

Music

GOD's 'God IV - Revelation' Is a Towering Feat of Theologically-Tinged Prog Metal (album stream)

GOD's God IV - Revelation is beautiful and brutal in equal measure. It's a masterful series of compositions. Hear it in full today before tomorrow's release.

Books

Ivy Mix's 'Spirits of Latin America' Evokes the Ancestors

A common thread unites Ivy Mix's engaging Spirits of Latin America; "the chaotic intermixture between indigenous and European traditions" is still an inextricable facet of life for everyone who inhabits the "New World".

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.