Pale Saints - The Comforts Of Madness
Of all the shoegaze albums I possess (and there's not that many to be quite honest) this one has to be the one which drives me to the point of greatest ambivalence. I find it alternately frustrating and irritating: the former because it doesn't ever seem to get going; the latter becasue it adopts too many little tricks to make it seem cool, and these often detract from the integrity of the music. Truth is, The Comforts of Madness isn't really shoegaze at all. It is closer to the dream pop of bands like the Cocteau Twins, though with a male vocalist and, thankfully, comprehensible lyrics. It comes across as a poor man's Slowdive.
Just because the Pale Saints came out at around the same time as some of the other shoegaze bands and used effects pedals on their guitars, they have been pigeon-holed along with My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Slowdive and the rest. It is something which they came to hate. Indeed, the Pale Saints appear to be attempting to drift away from the genre and given that this album came out before the supposed highlight of shoegaze, the awfully mundane Loveless, that is quite a feat in itself. Indeed, if anything, this album owes much more to the influences of prog rock than shoegaze - and by and large I don't like prog rock, hence the reason for the lower rating than you might otherwise expect.
There are two really irritating things about this album which I need to get off my chest. The first is that the titles of the tracks set out on the outside cover are listed in such a random format that you cannot tell what the title of the track you are listening to is at any given point in the play. Second, each track runs across into the next. Now this may make for some sort of continuity on the CD, but put it in an iPod and the track breaks show up just how irritating this practice can be. Occasionally, when done sparingly it can work, but I have found few albums where I think the practice adds anything to the music.
The positives are that the album is tight and well-played, with the right quality mix of guitars, bass and drums, thought the vocals can get a bit whiny at times and far too often the production is rather opaque. "Sight of You" is probably the standout track though it's not one, in all honesty, I'd cross rivers to get to. Of the rest of the tracks, well there is none which really stand out in my mind as being better than the rest. That to me is always the sign of a weak album. From the opening of the album, a thrash of sounds and noises, the album settles down and each track invariably plays out with some sort of drone or click as it fades into the next. That may be an attempt by the band to provide a continuity to the music, but it again smacks of prog rock concept albums where all the tracks run together.
In short, this is a useful album to have around, but it is not an essential purchase, especially if you are fan of some of the more lively styles of shoegaze like Ride or Catherine Wheel. I used to have "Sight of You" on pretty heavy rotation on the iPod at one time but that is not the case now. These days I hardly ever listen to The Comforts of Madness for I cannot really conceive of a moment where I would want to sit down and do so.
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