Come – Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (Expanded Edition)

Posted: 22 October 2021 in Albums
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Fire Records – 22nd October 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

“What does ‘regret’ mean?” “Well, son, a funny thing about regret is that better to regret something you have done, than to regret something you haven’t done.” I have no shortage of regrets, but one is that I saw Come and thought ‘meh’. It was 1993: they were supporting Dinosaur Jr, who’s just released Where You Been?, along with Bettie Serveert in Nottingham. I’d read reviews of, but was still yet to hear Eleven: Eleven at the time. They’d been all over the press with that debut album. And I just didn’t get gripped. Maybe it was because, at seventeen, I was just so revved for the headliners I wasn’t in a place to fully appreciate the supports.

I had no way of knowing that their second album would become one of my absolute favourites. Again, having picked up Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I wasn’t immediately enamoured. I guess it took me awhile to appreciate the album’s subtlety and emotional depth – and it has so much depth – but investing in listening properly and not holding out for the big riffery of Nirvana or Dinosaur Jr or the general sound of the class of ’93-’94 unlocks Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Some of it’s about maturity, some of it’s about patience – I didn’t really dig The God Machine on the first few spins of Scenes from the Second Storey.

It was a long album, for a start. Only two of the songs are under four minutes long, and half are five or more. The structures aren’t obvious, there’s not a lot that’s straight verse / chorus / verse. It was also a bit slow, and quite country / blues. It really wasn’t the sound of the grunge zeitgeist of 1994. But one day, somehow, something clicket. Quite possibly it was by absently half-listening to it, that moment arrived in ‘String’. I have this thing, whereby a fleeting moment of a song -m a change of key, chord, a single sound, or something else otherwise minor, extraneous, will absolutely make it for me. By which I mean, I am completely obsessive about this. When a moment strikes me as ‘pivotal’ I simply have to hear it, over and over, and that will be a reason to play an entire song – on repeat. That first scrape of fingers on strings at the start of ‘My Black Ass’ on Shellac at Action Park? Yeah, that’s one such moment. That moment at 3:05 on ‘String’ in Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is another. It just hits an instant of musical perfection, and it’s absolute bliss.

The song is a standout – on the CD, it’s positioned after the slow, blooding ‘Let’s Get Lost’ and picks the tempo up. The fact it arrives after a false ending or sorts and a change in direction is key, and the guitar interplay is sublime… The trouble is, explaining it in words simply doesn’t convey the impact, the way it resonates. But there it is. And now, here it is again, remastered. And it sounds great, all over again, as well as giving reason to revisit what is a remarkable and courageous album, one that represents a band committed to making the music they want to make instead of succumbing to trends or record company or peer pressure. And revisiting it only further highlights the dynamics, the tempo changes and unexpected shifts, and the way those sonic twists can instantly alter the mood, and the way the band imbue every bar with emotion. It’s so, so powerful, and all the more so for the fact it isn’t immediate. In fact, all of the things that made it ‘difficult’, that I struggled with at first, are the reasons I love it now and are the reasons it’s such a remarkable and accomplished album, and one that proved without doubt that volume is not the sole driver of intensity. Thalia Zedek’s vocal with its rich patina has a deep rasp, and carries a greater emotional than tonal range, and it’s perfectly suited to the twisting, restlessness of the songs: these are songs to lose yourself in.

The remastering is nicely done – nothing too intrusive, it just feels that bit crisper, somehow, the details clearer, and that’s nice.

The bonus disc, Wrong Sides contains an entire album’s worth of additional material, and with the exception of the demo version of ‘German Song’ (with some magnificent spiralling guitar work and if anything, this slightly less polished take, with the notable addition of clarinet and piano packs only more aching beauty), it’s not a gathering of alternative takes, radio sessions, and rehearsals, but a truly worthy assembly of contemporaneous material – B—sides, stray compilation tracks, and unreleased material, and it’s fair to say that it’s all killer.

‘Angelhead’ – a ‘String’ 12” B-side was recorded on a stop-off on tour, and is one of the most directly riff-centric grungers of the band’s career. ‘Cimarron’ is up there with the best of Come, with some crunchy guitars augmented by sweeping violin. Their cover of Swell Maps’ ‘Loin of the Surf’ is a groove-led math-rock instrumental workout, while ‘Submerge’ is chunky, crunky, dense, lumbering. This is the version that actually predates the one that appears on Eleven: Eleven, and instead came out on the German Sub Pop 12” and CD of the menacing ‘Car’ (also featured here with its warping guitars alongside B-side ‘Last Mistake’. But what matters most is that every single bonus cut here would have been worthy of the album.

With the additions as strong as the album, what the expanded version of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell reveals is an insight into a great – if massively underrated – band at their absolute peak.

FIRELP625-Come-Don'tAskDon'tTell-Gatefold-Sleeve.indd

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