boxing, there is no knockouts when art and commerce
enter the ring, though the least we can do is award
months ago The Guardian's Mick Brown
had a go at this when, in a timely and lucid article,
he pointed to the concept that seemed the likely winner.
The commercial motives have always been an essential
presence in pop-music, he argued, it used to be the
case that esteem and artistic respect were at least
as important to the performer as cash. But nowadays
that didn't seem to be the case. Groups and singers
talk openly of hitting the jackpot as if they didn't
really care how they did it, the result being a surfeit
of woolly, undistinguished music.
was a view I strongly sympathised with. For the past
couple of years I have watched with dismay as a wave
of blandly constituted watery pop swept onwards. Some
critics tried to surf the crest, but it eventually
proved too difficult a task for most of them. They
can be seen these days spluttering and choking on
their own hypocrisy, whingeing about the distressingly
calculated nature of the charts as if this had suddenly
arrived from nowhere and they had nothing to do with
encouraging it ("honest guv'nor! Honest!'')
problem wasn't that there was an emphasis on pop-music
(anti pop bigots may as well not bother reading any
further), but that so much was at best mediocre and
at worse bad. The most heartening thing was discovering
jewels like Scritti Politti, Heaven 17
and Simple Minds lying among the tinsel, music
that reminded us that the greatest pop was that which
balance artistic and commercial motives on either
side of a fulcrum of personality.
so where do the Comsat Angels fit into the picture?
This is a debate which particularly concerns them.
Having been born in the flowering of experimentation
and followed on the heels of punk, the Comsats had
forged a powerfully tense personal style. Their music
sometimes hovered on the brink of the abyss, yet the
prospect of hope never allowed them to slip into despair.
This was a haltingly edgy sound that in it’s own way
seemed to sum up something about our natural condition.
Comsat's released three albums, but none of them sold
spectacularly well, and earlier this year they were
dropped by their record company, Polydor, with no
immediate prospect of finding another one. They were
faced with a simple dilemma - either make their style
more accessible, or split up. The option they chose
was the former. They signed a deal with Jive records
- known largely as a dance record label, and recorded
new material with OMD and A Flock Of Seagulls
producer Mike Howlett.
of the results can be heard on their new single Will
You Stay Tonight? In many ways the more overtly
commercial sound of Stay is an improvement
on their last LP Fiction, which at least to
these ears - was a disappointing and largely unsuccessful
attempt to reach a larger audience. I still feel an
air of ambivalence, there are twinges of worry that
they could and should be producing music that makes
a deeper, if not so immediate, impact, though these
are largely dispelled by Shining Hour on the
B-side - a beautiful song that drifts as if suspended
in fluid, and reminds us that songwriter Stephen
Fellows has a gift for melody that makes the current
aspirations for a much wider audience seem not only
logical but likely to meet success.
central question is, of course, what configuration
the forces of art and commerce will take in the future
Comsat's career, or to put it another way, are the
Comsat Angels Paul Young or are they Duran
Duran? and does it matter anyway? These were the
issues explored when we met for an interview at bassist
Kevin Bacon's house in Sheffield last week. The referee
''I wouldn't say we did more accessible things because
we need to do that, but that's what I liked at the
time, and now. I find my taste has changed away from
the more extreme things. Maybe I'm getting old or
something. I can't explain it … is more a challenge.
It’s actually easy to go away and make esoteric noises,
is much harder to confront the thing square in the
face and try and pass through it.''
"The hardest thing is to get a song and play
it to somebody and they say yeah I really like that
I think it's great and they’ll mean it.''
''I can't deny that people liking it is crucial to
me. I hate it when people don't like the things. It's
really central. I would never go as far as writing
a song for a specific market, what I am saying is
that the approval is very important. It's what you
kind of feed off.''
the single, Adam Sweeting felt that the Comsats
had made some '' radio pleasing compromises ''. Did
'' We haven't compromised in any way. Our taste has
possibly gone a bit more mainstream, but that's the
kind of thing we like at the moment. I bought the
Rip, Rig & Panic album that you were going
on about. There are some great bits on it, but largely
I find it incomprehensible. And that's nothing against
the group. What I am saying is, it's me that changed,
not them. I think what it was, I couldn't afford to
buy any records so I just listened to the radio all
is it a major objective to have a hit?
''Yeah! All our mates in Sheffield have got one, so
we want one. The Human League are responsible
for it. They showed that it can be done. You can actually
break through. It's revitalised it. ''
'' Every group you speak to in Sheffield, the only
thing they're interested in his ‘hit record, hit record,
videos and world tours’. ABC were the next band to
follow it up in a big way. Half the people that went
on tours with the group you see knocking around and
everyone knows them, and they’re going on about playing
in Japan and all this stuff, and American tours, and
it just happens that nearly everyone I know who's
a musician now has got their sights set on that because
everyone knows is possible.''