It’s a sobering thought that we are looking at a THIRTIETH anniversary reboot of The Comforts Of Madness, the debut album from Leeds’ Pale Saints, but also a welcome opportunity to revisit this striking collection of dream pop, shoegaze…whatever you want to call it.
Already aesthetically pleasing first time around, this reissue is given the full deluxe treatment: double clear vinyl (or 2CD), complete with typically brilliant 4AD artwork courtesy of the late, great Vaughan Oliver, who sadly left us just a couple of weeks ago.
Unusually, the album’s (arguably) best known couple of songs close out the record: ‘Time Thief’, a slow / fast / slow epic, featured on the ace Rough Trade Music For The 90s Volume 2 compilation, while ‘Sight Of You’ has shown up on the contemporaneous Indie Top 20 (Vol. 8) as well as since being picked up for the wonderful Cherry Red Records collection Still In A Dream: A Story Of Shoegaze 1988-1995. It was also the lead track on the band’s debut 4AD E.P. Barging Into The Presence Of God.
Pale Saints’ sound was built around the soaring, pure voice of Ian Masters, one of those rare singers who impressively also manages the bass guitar at the same time as delivering vocals. The record bursts into life with the atypical cacophony of ‘Way The World Is’, which settles down after the harsh intro into a trademark Pale Saints track. Their closest contemporaries, in terms of sound alone, around this time would have probably been Ride, the urgent rush of ‘You Tear The World In Two’ being a good example of this comparison – though Masters’ vocals always meant that the band had a distinctive sound that couldn’t easily be mistaken for anyone else.
‘Sea Of Sound’ dials back on the more frantic nature of the record’s opening salvo, a thing of delicate beauty, layered guitars with plenty of effects to appeal to the dreampop connoisseur, while ‘True Coming Dream’ fairly flashes by in a riot of pedals.
‘Little Hammer’ has a melancholic, almost 60s feel, meanwhile ‘A Deep Sleep For Steven’ maybe borrows a little from My Bloody Valentine. Production on the record is partly by the brilliant Gil Norton, who lists label mates Pixies on his CV along with artists as diverse as Hurrah!, Echo & The Bunnymen and Del Amitri, and partly by John Fryer who deserves to be as famous as his co-producer, having worked on incredible records by Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil amongst many others.
The bonus disc contains previously unreleased demos of the album tracks from their Woodhouse Studio; a more tentative, though charming, Sight Of You kicks off proceedings and ‘Way The World Is’ has a more conventional opening than its eventual LP version. In fact, there are equivalent demo versions of all eleven tracks from the original album, and the sound quality and presentation of these early versions is extremely good and well worth a listen. And if this wasn’t enough, a complete John Peel session is thrown in to round off the set, a triumphant run through ‘Time Thief’ being a highlight, while ‘She Rides The Waves’ is a bonus; a short, sharp piece of psychedelia only previously available on the debut E.P.
Pale Saints would go on to step up to even greater heights on their next record, In Ribbons – in fact, the group made only three albums (the third one without Masters), but they leave behind a perfectly formed legacy. Here’s to the deluxe In Ribbons reissue come 2022!
The Comforts Of Madness is reissued by 4AD on 17th January 2020.