The Comsat Angels, C.S. Angels, The Headhunters, Dream Command...  All this & more
Sound cerebral strategists, the Comsat Angels think a good tune, but clearly couldn't play one to save a life. On the evidence of Lynden Barbers interview, talking about hit records comes easily enough to the Comsat's. Away from the drawing board, however, things start to go a little awry: Land is a sterile record, dull and largely uneventful.

Trying to brighten up the dour pomposities that clung like glum barnacles to the seams of their previous LPs, the Comsat's have here attempted to sharpen the edges of their music and eliminate the more discursive inclinations off Sleep No More and Fiction.

Former OMD and China Crisis producer Mike Howlett has been dragged in to polish up their usually barren sound and on the album sleeve, the chaps sport glossy new threads and a couple of new haircuts. This time around, they are obviously thinking CHARTS in a big way.

Unfortunately, the frantic need to be liked, admired, even adored, that characterises this frequently forlorn record thoroughly undermines the groups eager push into the new pop mainstream. The Comsat's have never sounded so acutely self - conscious: their current commercial ambitions rub uncomfortably against their more familiar morbid obsessions.

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Land, then, is an awkward compromise. It boasts none of the perverse intensity of, say, Sleep No More, where the Comsats undeviating moroseness was occasionally quite spell bounding: most of Land is inconsequential, so much fluff on the needle. Howletts production is frilly, like aural embroidery: the running stitches provided by Andy Peakes fluttering keyboards and the loose twang of Steve Fellows guitar are pretty enough, but there's no stern thread holding the weave together.

Howletts touch is light, often cute, but he can't accommodate even the briefest flashes of drama blinking through the glossy murk of skeletal melodies, stagnant riffs and blundering rhythmic effects that the Comsat's try to pass off as songs on Land. Mind you, he's not much helped by Fellows bleak featureless voice, muted guitar-playing (where's the fierce rage Fellows brought to Dark Parade, for instance?) and a sensationally leaden rhythm section that swings like a eunuch's balls. Their stab at the dancefloor, A World Away, drags like two club feet in search of a shoe box.

Elsewhere, there's a pallid remake of Independence Day, one of their most celebrated early songs, which Howlett reduces to a whimpering patter. Mr Memory is painfully turgid, while on Nature Trails and As Above So Below, the Comsats end up sounding like Tears For Fears on elephant tranquillisers.

Island Heart is more attractive and might be recommended as a follow up to the slight, innocuous Will You Stay Tonight?, otherwise Land has little to recommend it. On this showing, the Comsat Angels are superfluous: they serve no function I can identify. This is weak, ineffectual moaning. But since you only have to sell about nine copies of an album to dominate the LP charts for at least a fortnight, the Comsats can probably look forward to a decent chart placing. Land should peak at about 21...

Allan Jones

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