Comus - First Utterance. 1971 England



Here's an album that, in today's world, would almost have to be considered "common fare". And yet it wasn't always that way. Not by a long shot. I'm completely fascinated by the transformation that First Utterance has had in the public eye. As such, I don't need to write anything further about the music - there are hundreds of reviews out there - many of which will say what I would say. So I'm going to talk about its rise in popularity (see Notes section below). I personally think that many of these "once obscure" progressive rock albums will undergo a similar trajectory in history. We may not be alive to see it, but it's my prediction that the progressive rock movement will not be viewed with the ridicule it received in its own day, and perhaps even now as we are about three generations in. But every year, it seems more and more acceptance is being projected onto certain albums - by a younger generation. Those who would have more of an objective viewpoint of music from the past (while no doubt struggling with their own contemporary sounds, just as any generation does).

Let's talk about the popularity of the album. RYM - which has hundreds of thousands of users - ranks First Utterance as the #18 highest rated album for 1971!!! What? I don't think I have to announce to you all what a great year 1971 was for music. Many argue it was the greatest year ever for music, and I may be one of those. But there's First Utterance with an extraordinary 4.01 rating with 3,533 ratings and 202 reviews (I have 5 stars on it myself). The majority of RYM users are much younger than myself. If we go to Gnosis, which is a select group of raters with a progressive rock slant, First Utterance comes in at 8th place (stripping out the deluxe issues) (my current rating is a 13 - though sometimes I give it a 14 depending on my mood - both equate to an RYM 5 star). I find all of this utterly fascinating. In 1988, First Utterance was no different than many of the albums that I eventually collected over the years: Obscure and long forgotten except by a select few diehards like myself. And here in 2014, Comus' debut is truly a "cult classic", an album that is ranked amongst the most known and heralded albums of its time (Zeppelin, Sabbath, Stones, The Who, Doors, Pink Floyd, Yes, Tull, etc...). No doubt First Utterance is musically unique even in the context of obscure 1971 albums. One has to ask, though, how many others will rise in a similar fashion in our lifetime? I could see an album like Algarnas Tradgard taking hold in a similar fashion (though it's already at #140 for 1972 which is phenomenal in of itself).

Just like the master painters of the past - sometimes the best works weren't praised until long after their passing. Comus got a head start on that at least.

Personal collection
LP: 1998 Get Back (Italy)
CD: 2002 Victor (Japan)

The original on the high class Dawn label is housed in a fine gatefold cover, and the second photo shows the full original package with insert. Hard to imagine now, but this was a $100 record in the late 1980s (I have the catalogs to prove it), and only sold in mail order lists that you may have lucked into finding in the back pages of Goldmine. Still far beyond my budget in those days. By the time I did have some disposable scratch, this album had already gone up exponentially. And it continues to do such. The selling price of the album in the second photo? $2,700. While this was an exceptional copy, the album generally sells for well over a thousand dollars in decent shape.

---So it's always been a rare album - therefore how did it get to be so known? Your first inclination might be to think via CD reissue - but that's simply not the case either. The first legit CD (1989) was on a little known Japanese label called Teichiku. It was a straight jewel case, and didn't even have a backplate. And it was a bitch to find back then. It took me a couple years to source one, and it wasn't cheap. It wasn't until 1995 that BGO finally put out a proper reissue that was more readily accessible. But even today, the majority of the CDs on the market are high priced Asian imports.  I personally upgraded to the 2002 Victor mini-LP, which is a beautiful rendition of the cover. I would recommend, though, that you consider one of the Arcangelo mini-LPs as they feature a second disc with the Diana EP. The 2005 CD pairs First Utterance with their inferior second album To Keep From Crying, and also includes the Diana EP. This would appear to be the definitive CD reissue. As for LP reissues, the Italian label Get Back was the first to market (1998). And it was a splendid exact replication that did include the Diana EP as a separate disc (which is why I didn't upgrade the CD). I bought that copy upon release, and that along with the Victor CD is my personal collection.

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