Now at 22 years and counting, the only question anyone needs to ask about a new Comet Gain record is, have they lost it yet? The answer after the first few minutes of their seventh record, Paperback Ghosts, is a resounding "NO!" Everything that makes the group so special is fully intact: the anguish and the anger, the poetry and the hooks, the breathless rush of unguarded love laid bare, and the bruises raised by the crushing blows of life. The songs that reach into your chest and tear your heart out, the songs that inspire you to say "Yes!" The sound of a band making the music they want to because they have to. It's all here. What's missing are the clattering guitars, the shouted vocals, and any traces of the lo-fi band they once were. David Feck and his cast of collaborators (holding steady here from the previous album, Howl of the Lonely Crowd, only with Jon Slade AWOL and ex-Clientele bassist James Hornsey on board) have rewritten the script a bit and Paperback Ghosts is their first album where the scales are tipped in favor of melancholic ballads instead of ramshackle rockers, with the ratio set at two-thirds tearful crooning and one-third ripping it up. An imbalance like that could lead one to believe that the bandmembers got mellow in their advancing age, but really it seems inspired more by the autumnal mood they were in at the time of writing and recording. Or maybe it was the result of hanging around with Hornsey. Whatever the reason, the fact of the matter is that a sad Comet Gain ballad is a fully committed and emotionally raw ballad. Even with Feck's vocals sounding smoother than ever, the production cleaner than ever, and the songs decorated with weeping violin sections, his words and delivery bleed sincerity and pain. Sometimes it drips (like on the late-night weeper "Wait 'Til December"), sometimes it flows (the achingly blue "An Orchid Stuck Inside Her Throat"), but it always sounds real, and it always hits hard right where it counts. The band rises to the occasion on these with lots of lovely folk-rock jangle and dramatic swells, even crafting a song that should/could be a hit single with "Sad Love and Other Short Stories." On the flip side of the equation, there are some fine uptempo tracks to balance the melancholy, especially the rollicking "(All The) Avenue Girls" and the Rachel Evans-sung charmer "Behind the House She Lived In." The album ends on the guitar-heavy "Confessions of a Daydream," which features some confounding lyrics, a guest appearance by the Yummy Fur's John McKeown, and an epic feel that's also something different for the band. All the new bits here and there, and the slightly altered course, help to make Paperback Ghosts the most accessible Comet Gain record yet, without compromising any of the burning passion that has made them so important to their loyal fans.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra