Years Active: 1987-1996
Genre: Shoegaze, Dream Pop, Britpop
I was first introduced to the Pale Saints because their secondary vocalist [Mariel Barnham] was the original lead vocalist of Lush.
The Pale Saints really are Lush 2.0. Their history spans 3 albums, one considered decent, another considered the magnum opus, and a third, semi-britpop influenced record that received a lot of backlash from fans. Much like Lush, they broke up after this third album and like many other shoegaze bands were never substantially popular. The genre died in Europe before it even began, marking many of these bands as mere shadows of My Bloody Valentine [which is really unfair to a lot of these bands.]
While many of the Saints achievements [or lack thereof] are Lush-like that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Were they ever as good as Lush? Probably not. Did they ever release a classic album? Probably not, but they’re incredibly consistent and for longevity it means something to never release a bad album.
In 1990, before My Bloody Valentine put shoegaze on the map, and after the Madchester scene had solidified its place in British music, the Pale Saints were making significant use of the wah-wah pedal, and creating noisy guitar rock that would influence much of the sound of later bands of the early shoegaze era. Their debut album, The Comforts of Madness is a much overlooked gem of the 90s. Not because it’s a particularly great record [it isn’t] but for the severely underrated production. The music found a balance between loud and dreamy, yet still managed to be heavy, something that was consistent on the best songs of MBV’s Loveless.
Their second record, In Ribbons sounds much the same as their first record with improved execution. They made it a point to give us MORE Pale Saints and that’s not a bad thing. As a rule of thumb, assuming the previous album was a solid record, beefing up everything tends to be a formula for success even if you fail to evolve stylistically.
The first record often relied on distortion for noise, and while the second record does this it just feels a lot cleaner; a LOT louder. The second record uses so many different things to get loud–loud walls of sound, more guitars, more drums, and a second vocalist. Again, it’s much of the same, yet it still feels like you’re really getting what you pay for.
There are also some incredible pop tunes that are as infectious as anything on the radio today [Babymaker, Thread Of Light] and some strong writing from vocalists Ian Mathers and Mariel Barham. Many consider In Ribbons to be their best record, and while technically it may be I have a certain infatuation for their third record, Slow Buildings.
Slow Buildings is considered their worst record. It’s been panned by many fans whom simply couldn’t cope with the departure of original vocalist Ian Mathers and the slight change in sound. It’s still dreamy, and shoegaz-y, but there’s a slight hint of Britpop on here too–just enough to notice but not enough to make this the drastic change that other shoegaze bands did in the same era [see: Lush, Blur.]
Needless to say, Slow Buildings is a different record. There’s an emphasis on beat breaks and instrumentals here [which may, or may not be because of the loss of Mathers] which is a welcome addition because these are some really engaging instrumentals. Sometimes, the album even borders on progressive rock in how the songs build upon one another and burst open to reveal some very worthwhile climaxes.
There’s also the negation of Ian Mathers which rubbed some fans the wrong way, but I never really cared for him as a vocalist. His voice isn’t particularly strong or have a ton of range [as is expected in shoegaze] and he’s just forgettable on a whole. The funny part is, you won’t notice this so much on the first two records, but the addition by subtraction is so glaring on this final record.
As far as albums to get I’d say In Ribbons first. It’s considered their best, so mise well start with it. From there, I’d say to listen to Slow Buildings which is a fantastic display of what this band was really capable of. The Comforts of Madness is a nice record to have also, but it’s really not necessary.
Albums: The Comforts Of Madness, In Ribbons, Slow Buildings, tons of EPs , singles and demos I never bothered with
Way The World Is [The Comforts of Madness]
Insubstantial [The Comforts Of Madness]
Language Of Flowers [The Comforts of Madness]
Throwing Back The Apple [In Ribbons]
Thread Of Light [In Ribbons]
Babymaker -> freakin’ brilliant song; not the right version though [In Ribbons]
Hunted [In Ribbons]
Fine Friend [Slow Buildings]
Always I [Slow Buildings]
Henry [Slow Buildings]
Song Of Solomon [Slow Buildings]