For some reason, Renascent's liner notes to the reissue of Fiction criticize the album, even though they had nothing but praise for the first two. In reality, Fiction is much better and more enjoyable than either Waiting For A Miracle or Sleep No More. This album marked the point when, like many of the other post-punk bands of the time, the Comsat Angels decided to exchange monochromatic angst for variety and catchiness. The sound of Fiction is as colourful as the cover.
The greater variety of the album is evident in "After The Rain," the very first song. Stephen Fellows sings in such a soft, gentle voice that it's impossible to recognize him if all you've heard is Sleep No More. He's backed by a light-hearted five-note keyboard hook, again quite unlike the cold atmospherics from the first two albums. The lyrics encourage you not to be depressed, because "the sky will clear again after the rain." But lest you think the band has stopped worrying and sold out completely, the deep bass adds a sense of looming darkness, and there's something sad about the way Fellows chants "fall, fall" in the beginning and end of the song. These details add a bit of subtle ambiguity to the lyrics. "After The Rain" is an even better single than "Independence Day," which was the best Comsat Angels song up to this point. It should have been massive, and probably would have been had Polydor bothered to promote it better.
There's one more great single tacked on to the very end, as a bonus track. "Do The Empty House" has a great nervous guitar lead, and an exceptionally well-written lyric. One of my problems with Sleep No More is that the lyrics are so vague that it's difficult to care about whatever it is that Fellows is on about. But here, everything is specific and vividly described. He uses the image of a decrepit old house as a metaphor for letting oneself become complacent. "If we don't go soon, we might stay forever," he beseeches after his description of how "the roof is cracked and the rain is coming in / the floorboards creak and all the lights are dim." The song is fast-paced and wonderfully catchy. Yet more proof that "Independence Day" wasn't a fluke, and the Comsat Angels had it in them to do even better.
That's it for the great singles, but many of the album tracks are quite good also. "Now I Know" is built on Celtic-type guitar strumming, again with an appealingly pensive air. "Ju Ju Money" is a rewrite of an early non-album track (included as a bonus track on the reissue of Waiting For A Miracle) that trades the original's ominous tension for a larger, more immersive and lush sound with layered echoing guitars vaguely similar to The Cure around The Head On The Door. Except Fiction came earlier, of course. And even though Fellows disparages "Don't Look Now" in the liner notes, on the grounds that it was improvised in the studio and he made up the lyrics as he went along, that song actually has a great chorus. The way the guitar arpeggio alternates with the title phrase is again very catchy and memorable.
Some of the other songs tend to blend together, but even they have their moments. The intro to "Birdman," in which Fellows repeats the meaningless phrase "I want to do some time on cloud nine," is really embarrassing, but the rest of the song is actually great. Fellows' impassioned singing sounds very good amidst the big guitars. He also does well in "Pictures," another soft song. Compared to his fairly unremarkable vocals on Waiting For A Miracle, he's really come into his own as a singer here. The one weak song is "Zinger," which is filler by the band's own admission in the liner notes. Apparently, it was written when Fellows made a bet with someone that he could make a song out of any meaningless phrase. It turns out about as well as you'd think.
This reissue includes five B-sides and out-takes. In addition to "Do The Empty House," which once again is one of the band's all-time highs, there's a reworking of an early song called "Red Planet," which is pretty silly and overwrought, and three other songs that are pretty good. All three share a pleasantly carefree atmosphere. "It's History" encourages someone to "just let it go, it's history." "Private Party" is actually a rewrite of a Sleep No More-era out-take called "Mass," which started out as a dense angst-ridden number with pounding drums, but here is turned into a kind of party song. Fellows' assertion that he doesn't want to think about the future is no longer a commentary on the meaninglessness of life, but an invitation to enjoy the present. Finally, "For Your Information" is a previously unreleased out-take that should really have gone on the album. The chorus is a hilariously shallow dismissal of the past: "Those days are gone forever, it's much better now." It's good for a sunny day.
Fiction shows the Comsat Angels' talent much more than its two predecessors. It's too bad that they got disillusioned by this point and tried to commercialize their sound. They were just getting good. In comparison, consider the fact that it took The Cure five or six albums to really hit their stride as pop songwriters. I recommend Fiction to anyone who likes the eighties post-punk sound. If you like what you hear, Waiting For A Miracle is also good. Sleep No More is a bit more specialized, as it requires some previous appreciation of the goth rock style.