The Comsat Angels had many good B-sides and non-album tracks. The thing is, all of them have already shown up on Renascent's expanded reissues of the band's albums. What remained for To Before, the official rarities compilation, was a bunch of demos and rehearsal recordings with poor sound quality. It's difficult to listen to the whole thing from beginning to end, but it has its moments.
I've never been an advocate of releasing demo versions of studio recordings, but for example, the demo of "Independence Day" that was appended to the reissue of Waiting For A Miracle was interesting, because the main guitar line had a different sound and tone from the studio version. However, the demo versions on To Before reveal nothing new about the songs. The Comsat Angels weren't much for improvisation, so their rehearsal recordings don't contain any surprises. "Eye Of The Lens" is just like the original, except muddier, missing some lyrics, and played much slower. The song is supposed to be carried by its urgent speed, so this demo version just sounds plodding and awkward. But it keeps the exact same basic arrangement, so all you can really say is, "phew, it's a good thing that bands rehearse their songs before releasing them."
However, the first disc still has many originals. Only five out of twelve songs have appeared on the albums or the other reissues, which means that there's a lot of rare stuff that most people, maybe even most fans, have never heard before in any form. The songs aren't bad. In fact, any of them could have comfortably replaced any of about half the songs on Waiting For A Miracle, if they had been cleaned up and given a studio production. But the closest the disc comes to a lost classic is an upbeat, bass-driven song called "You Never Learn," with Fiction-style background keyboards. With more polish, it could have gone on Fiction. Most of the other songs, though, are more like "Tilted," full of muddy drums and bass and jerky rhythms. "The House That..." might be a lyrical precursor to "Do The Empty House," but the music is, unfortunately, much less interesting than in the later song.
The second disc takes a different approach. There are still a few rare non-album tracks, but most of the songs are taken from the three obscure albums from the middle of the band's career (Land, Seven Day Weekend, and Chasing Shadows), when they unsuccessfully tried to make more commercial music, as well as one album they recorded in 1990 under the name Dream Command, when they unsuccessfully tried to start anew. This is not necessarily a bad idea -- those albums aren't their best work, but each one has a couple of decent songs (Seven Day Weekend in particular), and not many people have heard them, so it would make sense to gather them all in one place. But unfortunately, most of these songs are again present only in demo form. Maybe Renascent couldn't get the rights to the studio versions, but whatever the reason, the songs suffer as a result. "You Move Me" is actually a great song, but it relies on a clean keyboard sound for its effect, and the demo version muddies up the keyboards and makes the song much less enjoyable.
The Dream Command songs are present in their final studio versions, but unfortunately, that album wasn't that great to begin with. "Ice Sculpture" is the one exception. The restrained, angular bass line and the sudden dramatic synthesizer at the end create a chilly feel to match the title. But "She's Invisible" and "Venus Hunter" are very pedestrian guitar rock, similar to the by-the-numbers loud songs on the band's last studio album The Glamour, perhaps with slightly better production. "Venus Hunter" is also bogged down with really awful lyrics about some kind of space alien who hasn't seen a girl in a thousand years, which is really not a good topic for a rock song.
There are bright spots. The disc sports a rare B-side from Chasing Shadows: "Something's Got To Give," which has a bright keyboard hook and some nice deep bass. And the sound quality of the demo version isn't bad for once (though again, it pales next to the studio version), so the track is one of the better parts of the album. "IKTF" stands for "I Know That Feeling," but it's an original, not a demo of the song from Land. It has a great, hummable keyboard line that could have been fashioned into a bizarre left-field pop hit, if Stephen Fellows' vocal had been polished more. And there's also a demo for My Mind's Eye called "There's Something Going On" that's quite good, well in keeping with the status of My Mind's Eye as a late-period creative rebirth. Instead of straining at hard rock-style solos, the guitar moves in quick and vibrant figures with a confident elegance.
Some stuff is still missing, like the Soft Boys cover that appeared on an earlier, now out-of-print compilation called From Beyond 2, as well as My Mind's Eye B-side "Storm Of Change." That's a pity, since there was definitely enough room for them on the CD. And there are no liner notes of any kind, which is seriously disappointing. People buy this kind of album because they're interested in arcane details about the band, and Renascent usually prides itself on the quality of its reissues.
So there we have it -- a bunch of inferior demo versions of songs that most fans already own, and a bunch of previously unheard originals, of which a few are quite good. For the most part, To Before doesn't really add that much to the band's legacy. But it does have enough new stuff to interest fans, who are its target audience anyway.