When a band with an established niche releases an album after a six-year hiatus, it’s always a bit risky. Should the record cater to fans or try to attract new followers? British indie-pop rockers Comet Gain likely faced this question with their latest release, 2011’s Howl of the Lonely Crowd on Fortuna Pop! label. The album’s success is relative; for fans, Howl of the Lonely Crowd delivers a decently satisfactory crop of new tracks still infused with much of the band’s original energy. However, the album is unlikely to draw first-time listeners into the small dedicated following of Comet Gain.
Formed in 1992 in London with David Bower (a.k.a. David Christian or David Feck) as lead vocalist and guitarist, the band has seen a succession of both lineups and musical styles – a range of punky sounds throughout the nineties, a nod to garage music around the turn of the millennium, and a even bit of alt-country in 2005’s City Fallen Leaves. Their first release on Fortuna Pop!, Howl of the Lonely Crowd swings back to pretty solid rock with a seven-piece roster and a production team including Ryan Jarman of The Cribs and Edwyn Collins of Orange Juice.
Alternating headbashingly electric and tenderly sweet, Howl’s progression mirrors that of Comet Gain itself. Opener “Clang of the Concrete Swans” is very aptly named; Bower’s warbly voice fits the random background microphone noises, but in a somewhat less-than-fulfilling way. With the addition of Rachel Evans’ female vocals on the next few tracks, the album finds a groove and begins to flow more nicely. Most of the standout songs are the softer tracks – including the beautifully depressing “After Midnight, After It’s All Gone Wrong,” the heartfelt “Some of Us Don’t Want to Be Saved,” and the short little closer “In a Lonely Place,” which ends the album on a haunting note.
While they’re easiest to hear on these quieter tunes, Bower’s lyrics are outstanding throughout the record. He may have even fared better as a poet – in fact, the parts of “A Memorial for Nobody I Know” that are spoken rather than sung are certainly some of the most memorable lines of the album. Bower writes of love, loss, and the future through a screen of triviality that is somehow just as potent and passionate as Comet Gain’s earlier work. It’s this honesty, this retention of an original spirit, that Comet Gain fans seem to have embraced in Howl of the Lonely Crowd. I don’t think I’ll personally put this album in my listen-on-loop playlist, but then again – was the band out to win me over, or were they far enough into their career that their loyalty lies with their twenty-five-hundred Facebook friends? I don’t know…when you start inviting concertgoers to wear paisley pants, doesn’t that imply a certain degree of intimacy?