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Comus - Song to Comus: The Complete Collection CD (album) cover

SONG TO COMUS: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION

Comus

 

Prog Folk

4.53 | 41 ratings

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Drachen Theaker
5 stars It's folk rock Jim, but not as we know it. This comprehensive set includes just about everything Comus committed to vinyl - their much-lauded debut First Utterance, its unloved successor To Keep From Crying, an early EP, a couple of solo efforts by mainman Roger Wootton, plus the inevitable 'previously unreleased' track. Whether you love them or hate them it's fair to say Comus are pretty unique. On their debut, the standard folk rock sound is melded with a rather evil Van Der Graaf Generator/Velvet Underground vibe. Enough to send a Fairports or Steeleye fan screaming for their mummy.

English folk songs often have macabre subject matter but Comus ups the ante to an almost ridiculous degree, taking in murder, rape, religious persecution and insanity, all performed with an unnerving lip smacking relish. I have to be in the right mood to enjoy First Utterance in its entirity, but it exerts a weird fascination that compels repeated listens. Lyrical flute mixes with superb acoustic guitar work, and a violin that's often used like a buzzsaw. And then there's the bizarre vocals - Roger Wootton sounds like a horny goat on tracks like Diana, Drip Drip and Song to Comus, contrasting sharply with Bobbie Watson's angelic, high-pitched harmonies. The Prisoner has the immortal opening line I was mad and was accepted for treatment at a hospital for the mentally sick. If only someone would attempt this on Pop Idol.

Amidst all this frenzy the best track is probably the The Herald, twelve minutes of shimmering pastoral beauty about the inexorable dawning of each new day. Wonderful guitar work from Glen Goring and lovely sepulchral female vocals.

The Old: Your soft white flesh turns past me slaked with blood. Your evil eyes more damning than a demon's curse. The New: The stars that twinkle on inside my head.

After the unique First Utterance it's not hard to see why To Keep from Crying gets a bad rap. If you love the creepy, pagan malevolence of the first album, the follow-up can seem like a wimpy and commercialised cop-out.

According to the sleeve notes even Roger Wootton hates TKFC, and he wrote most of it. Taken on its own terms I think it's an excellent album, full of catchy, largely upbeat pop-prog songs and top-notch playing. The opener Down (Like a Movie Star) reminds a bit of Yes vocally, and Andy Hellaby's driving bass work could be described as 'Squirean'. The violin has gone and the sound is augmented with drums and slightly thin sounding synths. Roger Wootton sings in a less crazed fashion than on First Utterance, but the vocals are still pretty wacky. Bobbie Watson gets greater prominence here and I love her soaring contributions on Children of the Universe (the interaction with Wootton's voice is stunning), So Long Supernova and the title track. Figure in Your Dreams was described as embarrassing in another review, but personally the giddy schoolgirl vocals never fail to put a smile on my face. The haunting Touch Down is another strong track, with the only low points being the ho-hum Perpetual Motion and Get Yourself a Man, a misguided attempt at a blues-inflected number.

The non-album tracks find the group performing in a more standard folk-rock vein, with the very pretty In the Lost Queen's Eyes a standout. I even have a soft spot for Roger Wootton's post-Comus solo single Fiesta Fandango which sounds like a mid-70s hit that wasn't, complete with cheesy Spanglish lyrics.

The band recently reformed for the Melloboat show in Scandinavia, where they apparently went down a storm with people coming from all over the world to see them. This is one of those events I really regret missing. Clips on YouTube indicate that their vocal and instrumental abilities have remained remarkably intact down the years. Roger Wootton can still do his munchkin growls, Glen Goring is a whizz on 12-string guitar, and Bobbie Watson sounds (and even looks) the same. There are rumours of more gigs and maybe even a new album - the unrecorded Malgaard Suite? Whatever happens, it's great to see this one-off band getting some of the recognition that escaped them during the overflowing with talent era of the early 70s. Individually I'd give both albums four stars, but as a package this is unbeatable value so it warrants the full five.

Drachen Theaker | 5/5 |

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