Graded on a Curve: Comateens,
“Danger Zone” b/w “Elizabeth’s Lover”

New York City’s Comateens cut three full-length albums in the early 1980s, two of them for major label Virgin. They are often mentioned when the subject turns to synth-punk. Before that however, when guitarist-vocalist Romona Jan was in the group, they cut an early single that’s getting the limited edition reissue treatment December 5 on 12-inch vinyl (90 copies orange, 200 black) through Left for Dead Records. “Danger Zone” b/w “Elizabeth’s Lover” combines a punky mover with a new wavy flip and is exactly the sort of thing fans of the pre-hardcore punk/wave scene will want on their shelf.

If the name Romona Jan rings a bell, that might be because she was in both Dizzy and the Romilars and the Nastyfacts, with Left for Dead reissuing the latter band’s “Drive My Car” single on limited 12-inch vinyl just last year; ‘twas a very hep release reviewed in this very column. Jan also chalked up extensive experience as an engineer-producer, and counted The Ramones amongst her fans.

Jan was only in Comateens long enough to cut that first single, but let’s make clear that Left for Dead’s reissue nixes “Cool Chick,” a nifty dose of cold wave chilliness complete with the drum machine action that was an integral component in the band’s scheme circa the first LP. “Cool Chick” is replaced with an early, previously unreleased version of “Elizabeth’s Lover,” a song Jan rerecorded with Dizzy and the Romilars. This initial take was cut during the same session that produced the single.

The omission of “Cool Chick” might bug some potential buyers, but it’s pretty clear that Left for Dead has chosen to focus on Jan’s contribution to the early Comateens (she does contribute to the ’79 version of “Cool Chick,” but the song was written by Diana Dominicci). And focusing on Jan is a savvy gesture, primarily because she stuff she wrote and plays on is quite spiff, but it also corrects the historical record, as many band bios neglect to mention her involvement in Comateens.

For the first single, Comateens featured Jan on guitar and vocals, Nick O. Teen (Nic North) on bass and vocals, Harry Viderci on drums and vocals, and Lyn Byrd on synthesizer and vocals. Unsurprisingly, “Danger Zone” is as punk as they ever got, but melodically so, and with harmonies, even. As it plays it’s easy to picture a couple hundred bodies packed into a small club bursting into pogo frenzy, and the catchiness puts it right over the top (so does Nick’s refinement of Richard Hell-style vocals).

“Elizabeth’s Lover” is described as a new wave maneuver, and yeah, that’s true, but along with the upsurge in synth, the guitar is still plenty chunky and the songwriting is pure ’60s gal pop. To say it steals the show here is wholly accurate, and those knowledgeable heads who know the Romilars’ version will surely appreciate this gutsier take of the tune.

The first Comateens album is a pretty cool, if uneven affair that retains the ’60s influence, but I don’t think the band ever sounded better than these two early tracks with Romona Lee Jan.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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