Fire Records – 25th February 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

If the reissue of Come’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, felt like the much-needed reappraisal of one of the 90s’ criminally underrated  – or underappreciated – bands was finally happening, then the arrival of their Peel Sessions is proof positive. It wasn’t that Come didn’t receive exposure or critical acclaim: tours supporting the likes of Dinosaur Jr at their commercial peak as they took Where You Been on the road, off the back off their widely-lauded debut album Eleven: Eleven, Come should, by rights, have been elevated to the same bracket of 90s alt-rock icons. But I guess their sound was simply too subtle and too nuanced, and too bluesy, to sit entirely comfortably with the zeitgeist. There are no instant hooks in the vein of Nirvana or RATM. In fact, there are barely any hooks, or even choruses. But the detail, the craft of the songs, the delivery of the emotional heft woven into those songs mean that Come are a band I’ve probably listened to more during the years since we left the 90s than the majority of that class of 92-94, and during this time, I’ve found myself frustrated by the fact that seemingly hardly anyone has even heard of them.

The band recorded two session for John Peel, the first in 1992 and the second in 1993, and rounding it off, perhaps a little incongruously, is the unreleased song ‘Clockface’, recorded live in Boston (that’s Massachusetts, not Lincolnshire) in 1991, and it’s rough ‘n’ ready and not the best live sound ever, but it captures the spirit and the energy, which is worth so much more than all the production in the world.

The first session comprises ‘Dead Molly’, ‘Bell’, ‘William’, and ‘Off to One Side’, all of which appear on Eleven: Eleven. Being Peel Sessions, recorded and mixed in a day, they’re rougher, more immediate versions. ‘William’ is perhaps the standout as the driving grunger of the set, a reminder of the power of which the band were capable of, particularly around the time of their debut, while ‘Off To One Side’, with its slide guitar and wonky riffery is the blusiest, and the slower-burning tune is more subtle but also less immediate.

The second sessions comprises ‘Wrong Side’, ‘Sharon vs. Karen’, ‘Mercury Falls’ and ‘City of Fun’, and while two of these would appear on sophomore album Don’t Ask, ‘Sharon vs Karen’ (a title way, way, way ahead of its time) was a feature of their love set, which appeared as a live cut on the expanded anniversary edition of Eleven:Eleven , and ‘City of Fun’ failed to make an official studio release. The sound and feel of this session is quite different, and also shows how the songwiting rapidly evolved to explore a broader palette of tone and texture as well as tempo shifts, and ‘Wrong Side’ packs it all into just under four and a half minutes. ‘Sharon vs. Karen’ brings some attack alongside some sinewy guitars as it lumbers and lurches along. ‘Mercury Falls’ is faster than the studio version, and feel both tentative and ragged, unready, yet still packs a punch, especially around the mid-section.

This is one of the many great things about Peel Sessions: bands were given free time in the studio to use as they felt fit, and many would try out new material, for better or worse. It’s most definitely for better here, and the eight session tracks are all, without exception, showcases of the magnificent guitar interplay between Chris Brokaw (Codeine) and Thalia Zedek (Live Skull); everything comes in from different angles, the tempos change not so much unexpectedly, but at key moments and turn the trajectory of the songs in an instant, and Zedek has a knack of conveying a heart-tugging melancholy with her drawling vocal and mournful guitar style. It’s not a twang, as such, more a slow bending that almost feels like tears. Pitched together with a tight and intuitive rhythm section with ‘the visceral bass and drums of Sean O’Brien and Arthur Johnson’, the sessions capture a band operating as a cohesive unit and really just hitting the mark with precision every time.

Fans will absolutely love this, as it provides an insight into their transition between first and second albums and well as capturing the live power in a studio setting. Those unfamiliar couldn’t want for a better introduction, with a set that represents the band at their finest, spanning the first two albums and, quite simply, kicking ass. Absolutely essential.

AA

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