Howl of the Lonely Crowd represents the fruition of the affection with which Comet Gain are held: recorded and produced variously by British musical icon Edwyn Collins, Ryan Jarman of The Cribs, Brian O’Shaughnessy (My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream) and Alasdair Maclean of The Clientele, who also contributed guitar. With added input from Matthew Sawyer (The Ghosts), Helen King (Shrag), and a blast of Terry Edwards’ (Spiritualized, Gallon Drunk, The Tindersticks) legendary trumpet on the rousing mod anthem “The Weekend Dreams”, the record captures a band fully in their stride and able to realise their full potential. As Feck remarked on being given access to the full range of Edwyn Collin’s studio with its vast collection of guitars: “they (the guitars) look great and were played on great records, which I tried to channel in that way a tribesman would eat the brain of his smartest enemy – though I didn’t eat any part of Edwyn.”
Suffused with longing, love, and defiance, Howl of the Lonely Crowd documents and dissects this English melancholy with a rare self-assurance. On ‘Clang of the Concrete Swans’ the band chase Robert Forster down Carlito’s Way with its ‘no exit signs’; and end up broken and clinging only to the exhortation to ‘find the forever in who you’re kissing.’ Across the record the band are given free rein to display the scope of their talents, effortlessly segueing from the devastating Fall-esque barrage of ‘Working Circle Explosive!’ (The Fall’s Una Baines is paid homage to on a separate eponymous track) to the cascading keyboards and tenderness of ‘An Arcade From the Warm Rain that Falls.’ Elsewhere we find Feck in character as Herbert Huncke (“a poet, bum, a majestic junkie”), channeling the seediness of the Velvet Underground’s New York, and as the regretful balladeer on ‘After Midnite, After It’s All Gone Wrong.’ The songwriting here is of the kind that only Comet Gain can really pull off - perfectly pitched evocative pop, redolent of all that is rich, gorgeous, and uncompromising about the meeting between punk and sixties soul, and imbued with a particular streak of violence and urgency which the band have now refined into a complete and elegant aesthetic (‘I can love someone, can’t I? Even if it kills them?’ sings Evans on ‘Ballad of Frankie Machine’).
Howl of the Lonely Crowd is the soundtrack to lives spent dedicated to seeking out the outposts of pop culture, an immersion that asks no reward beyond the music itself. On this record, with the patronage of their esteemed friends, acolytes and collaborators, we find one of the most treasured and exhilarating British bands around in full realization of their creative capacities.
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Scrappy British indie-pop outfit Comet Gain still sounds completely psyched to be making records, which can’t be said for many bands that have been around 19 years. That might have something to do with the man at the controls for Howl Of The Lonely Crowd: old indie hero Edwyn Collins of Orange Juice produced the band’s sixth album, and the joy is palpable. Comet Gain has become something like a ’90s-sired Mekons: a large, ever-shifting lineup centered on a couple of front-people (founder David Feck and, beginning in 1997, Rachel Evans), with no particular “sound,” just an abundance of sharply written songs that are both tongue-in-cheek and heart-on-sleeve.
“Remember all the songs that start with ‘I remember,’” Feck murmurs at the top of “A Memorial For Nobody I Know,” but these songs really are stirring. It’s hard not to hear the opening of “After Midnight, After It’s All Gone Wrong” without thinking of an old Eric Clapton Michelob ad, but what follows is doleful and moving, climaxing with Feck spinning out variations on the phrase “It’s just a memory-ache.” The warm violin scrapes and sprightly guitar figure that drive “An Arcade From The Warm Rain That Falls” have a similarly memory-aching effect, but the song that lingers longest comes near the end: “Some Of Us Don’t Want To Be Saved,” an atheist’s hymn recommended to Christopher Hitchens. For Comet Gain, there’s too much life to be lived to worry about an afterlife.
Comet Gain embodies a certain outsider-pop sensibility so perfectly — that is, so imperfectly — that the veteran British group appears doomed to forever remain a cult phenomenon. Howl of the Lonely Crowd, the sixth proper album from culture addict David Feck and his ever-changing band of enablers, is a timely reminder that this isn’t such a bad thing to be.
Another ramshackle set of poignant, punk-streaked indie pop inspired by books, movies and, yes, connoisseur-adored records, Comet Gain’s latest veers little from a classic template that has influenced Love Is All, Los Campesinos!, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart and many others. Rather, Howl represents a sort of passing of the torch, with underdog-pop forefather Edwyn Collins (Orange Juice) and heir Ryan Jarman (the Cribs) helping produce. Shrag’s Helen King (vocals) and the Clientele’s Alasdair MacLean (guitar) also contribute. But the album’s real charm is some of Comet Gain’s most welcoming warts-and-all songwriting yet.
Feck, for his part, does kiwi-pop wistfulness (“Clang of the Concrete Swans”), foul-mouthed Lou Reed street-punk (“Herbert Huncke Prt 2″) and tender acoustic balladry (“Some of Us Don’t Want to Be Saved”) with equal wry aplomb. Co-vocalist Rachel Evans doesn’t miss a beat, either, whether on nightlife fantasy “The Weekend Dreams” or Blue Orchids binge “Yoona Baines.” But Feck sums up his long-underrated band’s patient approach best when he asks, far too modestly, “Will you still sing my song/ After I’m gone?” For many in the 21st century’s always-connected lonely crowd, the answer should be a resounding yes.
For years I felt like my adoration for Comet Gain was unjustified, as very few, if any, of my friends had even listened to the band. But, with the release of Broken Record Prayers, their singles collection, the group slowly seemed to gain ground with the masses; I say rightfully so. Now, we welcome the newest recording, Howl of the Lonely Crowd, which appears to have a two-sided story–one filled with jangling pop of the usual sort, the other slowing it down just to spread some introspection.
As a new listener, you can easily breeze right into the opening three tracks of the record, fueled with the usual bit of jangling pop and David Feck poetry. Depending upon where your allegiance lays, you’re either going to adore opener “Clang of the Concrete Swans,” or its successor “The Weekend Dreams.” Personally, I’m going with the former, as I love Feck’s affecting vocals, not to mention the stuttering guitar/vocals just before the 2.5 minute mark. However, Rachel Evans has a sweet melody behind her occasionally raspy vocals, so “The Weekend Dreams,” will definitely get your attention. What’s interesting in both tracks, and many that follow, is the production quality, which still sounds busy, but so much more clear than previous works, allowing the true spirt of the band to prevail.
Of course, Howl of the Lonely Crowd has that bit of forlorn love to it; it’s the kind of thing David Feck seems to have perfected. It’s first appearance via slow jam comes in on “She Had Daydreams.” For me, it’s the storytelling and the lightly brushed female vocal accompaniment that allows this track to excel, giving Comet Gain a new dimension they haven’t delved into thus far in their career–not much anyways. “Some of Us Don’t Want to Be Saved” is another such number, but Feck takes more of a spoken word for this track, allowing the guitar playing, which is lighter than usual. The fact that such a song can win you over without ever really taking the typical approach this group has displayed speaks loudly to their fans, and hopefully to newcomers as well.
You’ll find that listening to all of Howl of the Lonely Crowd might paint two different pictures. You’ve got the pure pop moments of the opening tracks, not to mention the power-pop of a song like “Working Circle Explosive” (reminds me of CG circa Realistes), and then you’ve got these somber closers on the latter half of the record. Knowing Comet Gain, as I think I do, you’ll have to realize they don’t take the typical approach to songwriting, especially when it comes to album construction. For all I know, Feck and friends could have jammed out and recorded the first half, which is likely since songs featuring Herbert Huncke have been floating around for some time, then gone back and recorded the second half at a later date. But, none of it really matters in the end, as no one’s going to write a better indie pop record than this group. The more you listen to the lyrics, the more they suck you in, and the more you fall in love–which is how it should be with your favorite bands.
(Austin Town Hall)