Boomkat Product Review:
One of the most iconic dreampop albums of all time, Pale Saints' complex and innovative second album has been remastered and bundled with a slew of unheard demos and two brass band versions from the Tintwistle Band for good measure. If you've not heard this one before, now's your time.
Pale Saints' critically lauded 1990 debut 'The Comforts of Madness' gets most of the attention, but 'In Ribbons', released two years later as the band was beginning to splinter, is a stunning example of where shoegaze could have gone if it had only been given a bit more time to simmer in its own ideas. Led by bassist/vocalist Ian Masters, the Pale Saints had taken on ex-Lush vocalist Meriel Barham by this point (she contributed to the 'Half-Life' over a year before this), who would become an integral part of the band. She added not only extra guitars and vocals but songwriting, penning the stand-outs 'Thread of Light' and 'Featherframe', among others. But what sets 'In Ribbons' apart from the glut of distorted 'n faded shoegaze tomes of the era is its groggy set of inspirations; Masters considered himself an outsider and wasn't interested in simply regurgitating the same sounds again and again, he was more motivated by vintage Canterbury prog, folk and US post-punk.
There's a downtown percussive angularity to 'Ordeal' that's bolstered by cool-headed FX work. Not interested in the bolshy, pedal-board led fuzz of MBV, the band was more subtle with its processes, no doubt helped by Echo & the Bunnymen producer Hugh Jones. And 'Hunted' is a particularly knotty moment, written in 5/4 and shrouding jangly prog in a veil of distortion and warbling, choirboy vocals. But Masters found himself at loggerheads with the rest of the band, who were more interested in penning poppier tracks. This tension gives 'In Ribbons' a tang that's particularly fragrant, but led to him leaving shortly after its completion. He'd already found the relationship complicated and he didn't want to perform live, but the struggle to make this album had led him to point to boredom as the reason for his exit. And his loss can be heard on Pale Saints' third and final album, that sorely lacks Masters' musical experimentation.
The extra disc of demos is a tasty addition for fans, notably including the very first version of their cover of Slapp Happy's 'Blue Flower', that was included on the international edition of 'In Ribbons' and the 'Throwing Back the Apple' EP, and a Masters-led version of Nancy Sinatra's 'Kinky Love', Pale Saints' most popular single that features Barham on vocals.