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The Sound
Jeopardy

(Renascent)
The Sound
From the Lions Mouth

(Renascent)
The Sound
All Fall Down

(Renascent)
The Sound
Shock of Daylight & Heads and Hearts

(Renascent)
The Sound
In the Hothouse

(Renascent)
The Sound
The BBC Recordings

(Renascent)
Trace back the seconds
Recall the detail
From someone will, to someone does
To someone did, you know I did Oh there must be a hole in your memory
But I can see
I can see a distant victory
A time when you will be with me
—“Total Recall” (Heads and Hearts)
It’s difficult to imagine in today’s environment of light speed information dissemination, but there was once a band whose debut album received five-star reviews from both New Musical Express and Melody Maker, and yet that group never gained anywhere near the level of popularity they deserved. In 2006, such an act would have 100,000 friends on MySpace, and music critics all across the globe would be falling all over themselves to offer their own opinions on the relative merits of this highly touted act. In 1980, however, news was still passed along by means of town criers and the newly invented telegraph system. Or so it must have seemed to The Sound, one of the very finest bands of the post-punk era. Like many great artists, they toiled in obscurity during their period of peak activity. Unlike most of these great artists, however, they still haven’t caught on. To the few of us who have found our way to music of The Sound, their obscurity is simply unacceptable. We here at PopMatters wish to right that wrong. In his late teens, a kid from London named Adrian Borland started a punk band called Outsiders. Their existence was of miniscule cultural significance, other than as a period of incubation for the writing, singing, and quite considerable guitar playing talents of Borland to mature. In 1978, after dissolving this first, short-lived band, he recruited bass player Bob Lawrence and drummer Michael Dudley, and they formed The Sound. The key line-up was cemented by 1981 with Graham Bailey (aka, Graham Green) having taken over on bass and Colvin “Max” Mayers joining on keyboards. Over the 10-year course of the band’s great run, they would release five studio LPs, a live album, and a hefty batch of singles and EPs. As a coda, 2004 treated us to a double-disc set of BBC recordings dating from 1980, 1981, and 1985. Let’s get back to the beginning, though. In 1978, The Sound were very literally a post-punk band, its leader having sprung out of the UK punk scene. That summer, Joy Division released their first EP, An Ideal for Living, which displayed an only partially gestated identity. Meanwhile, Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant were recording their first Bunnymen demos, with a drum machine named “Echo” keeping time; The Psychedelic Furs had just formed; and U2 were fresh out of high school. You’ve heard of these other bands, I think. They are considered important, and rightfully so. Their contributions to the landscape of music in the early ‘80s were tremendous. In an era dominated by new wavy pop fluff, these acts helped to keep the music scene grounded. When the freshly carved monolith of punk rock imploded, these bands grabbed up the remains of that raw emotional energy and moved it into the dank, dark reverberations of rock ‘n’ roll’s basement. With scraping guitars, wounded vocals, and melodies that rang out desperately to be heard, this scattered collective began rebuilding the underground scene and laying the groundwork for alternative music for decades to come. The Sound were right there with them, quietly existing at the stylistic nexus of this post-punk movement. For most of these acts, 1980 saw the release of their debut albums. Joy Division, appropriately, had released their fledgling full-length the year before, leading the charge with the harrowing Unknown Pleasures. While 1980’s Closer became that band’s untimely swan song, their contemporaries were just getting going. U2 issued Boy, their first set of heartfelt anthems and political rockers. On The Psychedelic Furs self-titled launch, they reined in the sax-punk of X-Ray Spex and retooled the arty cool of the Velvet Underground to keep up with the times. Echo & The Bunnymen, meanwhile, kicked off their LP career with Crocodiles, which married Joy Division’s nihilism to a ‘60s garage rock sound. This is the scene in which The Sound released Jeopardy, their intense, visceral debut. Its more chaotic numbers, like “Words Fail Me” and “Resistance,” showed a kinship with The Psychedelic Furs, while the spare despair of “Hour of Need” and “Night Versus Day” pulled Jeopardy sonically closer to, well, Closer. Jeopardy and Crocodiles also displayed commonalities. In addition to residing on the same label, Korova, both The Bunnymen and The Sound exhibited an early, albeit somewhat covert, penchant for the pop melodies which would later rise above the shadowy surfaces of each group’s sound. But, despite sharing a similar high baritone, these bands’ lead singers presented markedly different personalities. Adrian Borland was always an unassuming guy who felt his music should be both the medium and the message. And, although he sang with powerful conviction, Borland shared neither Ian McCulloch’s vocal bravado nor his flair for cryptic language. Neither was Adrian as dramatic a showman as Bono. They did possess some similarities, however. Lyrically, both men wore their hearts on their sleeves. With a shout, they sang about what they believed in. While this pre-emo earnestness began winning for U2 what would one day amount to bazillions of fans, precious few have been exposed to the words of Adrian Borland. For those who have, the experience is galvanizing. The intentions of his lyrics left uncloaked, they will grab you with their immediacy and their unadorned truth. The first cut on Jeopardy, “I Can’t Escape Myself”, cuts to the raw fear of loneliness. Sometimes, it’s not necessarily that we miss the presence of some other; it’s that we need distraction from getting to know ourselves. “So many feelings / Pent up in here / Left all alone, I’m with / The one I most fear.” 1981’s From the Lions Mouth saw the shift on keyboards from Marshall to Mayers. The band’s sound changed little from their first album, though. Sure, the higher production value smoothed out some of the raw edges, but by no means was there a drop in intensity. If anything, The Sound’s musical message packed a meaner sonic punch on Lions Mouth. Borland’s vocals were more assured, and the band began moving toward a big, ringing, charging-up-the-hill sound that had less in common with their British counterparts and, I’m sure coincidentally, would soon become more associated with rock from Ireland and the other parts of the United Kingdom. We’ll credit that mostly to the sway of U2, though. In the album’s mellower moments, Bailey’s richly rolling bass lines called to mind The Cure’s records of that time, Seventeen Seconds and Faith. Still, at that moment, Echo & The Bunnymen continued to be The Sound’s closest musical cousin. But, whereas Echo ratcheted up the grandiosity on Heaven Up Here, The Sound dealt in tension and restraint. These separate approaches worked equally well for each band, tapping into their respective powers. Yet it was The Bunnymen whose star continued to ascend, their releases climbing higher up the charts. The Sound, however, could take satisfaction in knowing they’d procured a truly great album in From the Lions Mouth. Its opening track, “Winning”, is a killer, and shows Borland finding his main theme as a writer: finding strength and hope amidst adversity. Its lyrics are simple, but there’s nothing Hallmarky about their inspirational power, especially as delivered by a fiercely resolute Borland. “I was going to drown / Then I started swimming / I was going down / Then I started winning.” That this fantastic track hasn’t been used by Nike or ESPN is a crime. Perhaps if Matchbook Romance did a cover? After the great heights of Jeopardy and From the Lions Mouth, The Sound’s third album, All Fall Down, was widely regarded as something of a let down. It’s true that it doesn’t match the strength of its predecessors, but the album features many strong tracks and a mostly relaxed vibe. All things being relative, that is. If The Sound ever made a chill out album, All Fall Down is it (save for the P.I.L.-like excoriations on “Glass and Smoke”). Chiefly, though, the band were at a musical crossroads. Following the usual pattern of mellowing with age, Borland and company were moving away from the raw intensity of their earlier works, but they’d yet to arrive at the next phase of their career. The end result was unfairly written off as a muted retread of Lions Mouth. At a time when most other bands were moving toward a more commercial, pop-oriented sound, these somber tones didn’t go over well. In this same year, 1982, The Psychedelic Furs issued Forever Now, with the tenderly sighing “Love My Way” landing just outside the Top 40 on both sides of the Atlantic. Duran Duran had helped catapult new wave into the worldwide mainstream with Rio and The Clash were all over MTV with “Rock the Casbah”. A generation was riding a wave and cashing in. Apparently this was the wrong climate for musical introspection. After the disappointing reception to the underappreciated All Fall Down, WEA (who owned Korova) cut The Sound from their roster. The band had been disappointed with the label’s promotion, anyhow. The kiss-off was mutual. In 1983, while the new wave crested, The Sound retreated to retool their sound. While they never aimed for superstardom, they would’ve at least liked to see one of their singles on the charts. Former stable mates, our old pals Echo & The Bunnymen, had a top 10 single with “The Cutter”, and Porcupine peaked at number 2 in the UK. Clearly, The Sound had been completely left behind. Let’s not get bitter and dwell on this, though. The band certainly did not. Instead, in 1984, they signed to the newly formed Statik and released the excellent EP Shock of Daylight. Their sound was still not overtly commercial, but the group made their biggest overtures yet toward the tastes of mass consumers. By this point, they’d journeyed far away from the youthful abandon of Jeopardy and were producing a far more sophisticated brand of rock that simmered and quietly soared. U2 had found a similar groove with The Unforgettable Fire, but, perhaps surprisingly, Simple Minds’ music of this era, New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) and Sparkle in the Rain, provides the closest touchstone for the moody-yet-glorious rock The Sound were forging at this stage. Some careless critics have charted a downward trend through The Sound’s discography, but this is simply untrue. Too often, when a group matures from the high-energy thrust of its early career, we journalists whip out our poison pens, toss off a “these guys used to be great, but now they’re boring” review, and move on to the next shiny new thing. Well, these reckless scribes have missed out on a very fine epoch for The Sound, with 1985’s full-length, Hands and Hearts, fusing their new-found grace with the snarl of old, resulting in a masterful late-era work. Few great bands have exhibited their mastery solely in the studio. It is on the stage that a group can forget about the maddening precision that went into capturing their songs to tape, as they step before a live audience and set these tunes ablaze. The Sound were a fantastic and furious live band throughout their career, as is displayed on two separate albums. 1985’s In the Hothouse is a blistering concert recorded at The Marquee in London on two August nights. Renascent has recently rounded off their reissue collection with the aforementioned double-disc set, The BBC Recordings, which features a 1981 Peel Session and two separate concerts captured at the confusingly named Paris Studios in London. Far more than mere discographical throwaways, all of these live recordings are great listens and show The Sound, once again, to be one of the best bands of their time. The story told by the Renascent reissues is glorious, yet incomplete. The Sound went on to issue one further album, 1987’s Thunder Up. Unfortunately, it veered too close to the quasi-alt commercial rock of, say, The Outfield or, worse, Glass Tiger (if you don’t already know their music, make no effort to do so). They disbanded shortly thereafter, but Adrian Borland went on to have the same kind of career as a solo artist that he had as front man for The Sound: one that was artistically, but not commercially, successful. Although quite a bit mellower than his band’s recordings, Borland’s lovely Cinematic ranks among his strongest works in any context. Unfortunately, his story has a very sad ending. After years of battling depression, Adrian committed suicide in 1999. Only 41 when he died, Borland left behind a sizable body of work replete with many excellent albums. The wonderful Renascent discs are the very best of these. Further, they are among the very best of that era. Few acts were as consistently strong from 1980 through to 1985. U2, Echo, and who else, really? In the midst of such great company, The Sound were the wallflowers at the party, burning with a hidden beauty, but nowhere near as showy as all the others. For this, for lacking pretense and never begging to be seen, The Sound were doomed to dwell in obscurity. That’s all right, though. The word has been slowly spreading for all these years, new fans born all the time. Anyone whose been drawn in by next-genners like Interpol, The Editors, or She Wants Revenge will want to check out The Sound, to whom these acts owe a great deal, even if they don’t know it. Now, since I’ve already spent more than 2,000 words pleading with you to explore the music of The Sound (and thereby resorting to the kind of crassness the band disdained), I might as well leave you with a full-on sales pitch. Although only available as imports to the U.S., these beautifully packaged and expertly remastered discs from Renascent are in the same price range as most domestic releases. There. Aside from hand-delivering the CDs to your door, there is little more that I can do. If you aren’t running out right now to purchase the entire catalog of The Sound, this is a choice you’ll simply have to live with. But I will not give up hoping, because that is the message of The Sound. We will keep fighting to deliver their message. The battle has yet to be won, but “I can see a distant victory”.

Rating:

Michael Keefe is a freelance music journalist, an independent bookstore publicist, and a singer/guitarist/songwriter in a band. Raised on a record collection of The Beatles, Coltrane, Mozart, and Ravi Shankar, Michael has been a slave to music his whole life. At age 16, he got a drum set and a job at a record store, and he's been playing and peddling music ever since. Today, he lives in Oregon with his wife (also a writer, but not about music), two cats, and a whole lot of instruments and CDs.


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