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Pale Saints - The Comforts of Madness Music Album Reviews

The 30th-anniversary reissue of this dream-pop landmark includes a second disc of demos, capturing a celebrated band already eager to move onto new sounds.

In 1990, shortly after his dream-pop band Pale Saints released their acclaimed debut album The Comforts of Madness, bassist, vocalist, and bandleader Ian Masters was already feeling restless. During an interview with MTV’s 120 Minutes, he and his bandmates—drummer Chris Cooper and guitarist Graeme Naysmith—were asked if they had favorite songs from the album. Masters quickly batted the question aside. “My favorite’s always the new ones,” he told the unseen interviewer. “I get really bored of playing the same songs all the time.”


It’s exactly the kind of cheeky remark you’d expect from a young musician riding the wave of a successful album (it landed at number 40 on the UK charts). But Masters’ impatience illuminates his mercurial post-Pale Saints career as well as the capricious spirit of the songs on Madness. Newly remastered and reissued by 4AD in celebration of its 30th anniversary, the album feels volatile even at its most introspective. Throughout 11 tracks, the trio maintains a tricky balance between the sugar rush of their C86 influences and the hypnotic churn of psychedelia. Nowhere is that more obvious than on their cover of “Fell From The Sun” by the Paisley Underground group Opal. In Pale Saints’ version, the gallop of the original is rendered, by turns, as a Fairport Convention-like ramble and a speedy Wedding Present fuzzfest.

What this reissue makes clear is how much of Madness’ iridescent sound is the work of producers Gil Norton and John Fryer. The deluxe edition includes a second disc of demos recorded at Masters’ Woodhouse Studio. Those earlier recordings are much rawer and more direct, while revealing the strength of the bare-bones material. Fryer and Norton brought the band more in line with the 4AD aesthetic, coating Naysmith’s guitar in washed-out colors, adding layers of compression and some dub-style effects to Cooper’s drums, and finding ways to thread the songs together so that the vinyl sides flow seamlessly.

The band also allowed the producers to reshape some material. In demo form, “Insubstantial” splays out a bit more, with a meandering opening section. With Norton’s help, Naysmith’s shimmering lead comes to the fore, alongside a touch of hand percussion, providing a nice counterbalance to Masters’ wispy singing. Fryer pushes “Sight of You” away from pure Spacemen 3 worship toward its dream-pop pinnacle by dialing back the delay pedal and cranking its coiled bassline. Masters may have gotten bored with it eventually, but in this version of the song, he sounds invigorated.

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As Masters promised, he and Pale Saints didn’t stick in this mode for long. The group added a second guitarist (Meriel Barham) and with their second album In Ribbons, steered into lusher, more measured compositions. After touring to support that record, Masters left the group, exploring more psych folk territory with Spoonfed Hybrid and ESP Summer, his project with His Name Is Alive’s Warren Defever. These days he makes what he calls “confusion jazz” as a member of the experimental duo Big Beautiful Bluebottle.

It’s a wonder anyone involved with Pale Saints could keep him still long enough to record Madness. Watching and listening as Masters has spun off in as many different directions as he has only makes this album feel even more special; a brilliant, vivid snapshot of an artist and a band at the very beginning of a fascinating and unpredictable journey.


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