[30 March 2003]
Jeopardy is the album missing from your music collection.
Making such a bold claim banks on two assumptions, which I’ll come clean about right now. First, that you don’t already own Jeopardy. I assume this because, in the transition from a historical moment to a musical canon, the sad reality is that some bands, good as they may be, get left by the wayside. This unfortunate fate has most certainly befallen The Sound. Though they signed in 1980 to Korova Records—the very same major label which also housed Echo and the Bunnymen, with whom they also share a sonic likeness—they would hardly enjoy the same fame. Their cult status in England never translated into any notoriety on American shores; they remain unknown even by rabid new wave and post-punk fans on both sides of the Atlantic. Such a tragic tale only goes to show that, in the world of music, there most certainly no justice.
My second assumption is arguably one based on taste, but for anyone interested in how punk got to be post punk got to be new wave got to be ‘80s synth pop, Jeopardy is a critical piece of the puzzle. Nestled in that moment before what has become the signature ‘80s Euro sound was full-on explode, The Sound find musical cousins in the Cure, the Fall, the Gang of Four, Joy Division, and the Psychedelic Furs. Pretty good company, right? Now ask me again why you don’t already know about this band.
Jeopardy is the band’s debut release; it bursts with fresh energy while also maintaining a startling maturity and skill. These are songs that haunt, blaze, rip, and govern, sometimes within the same moment. Oh, their elements: the guitars twitch like an itchy trigger finger, the vocals teem with fury and fire, the bass like a controlled nuclear reaction, keyboards always at the perfect color, whether dark or luminescent. In addition to the original material from the 1980 release, this particular reissue also contains tracks from rare live Instinct EP recorded in London in 1981.
“I Can’t Escape Myself,” the album’s opener, is an intensely dramatic, mesmerizing number. The characteristic quickfire bass and upbeat drum kicks start almost inaudibly and rise like smoke filling a closed room. Guitar agitates in unison with the drums. Then singer/guitarist Adrian Borland begins: “So many feelings/ Pent up in here/ Left alone, I’m with/ The one I most fear.” His paranoia intensifies across the verse, until the theatrical interjection of the chorus. Borland drips “I can’t escape myself,” as it’s echoed, in screams and guitar jabs, in the background. But this is a brief, Kafkaesque release. Even the closing of the song offers no real exit, Borland singing his final “escape myself” over the relentless bass, both of which cut out abruptly.
“Heartland”, the agile punk race which follows, is far more optimistic—blusteringly lively, indeed a “chemistry of commotion and style,” as the lyrics astutely note. Midway through is a genius guitar solo that recalls Richard Hell or Tom Verlaine, and the whole thing is overlain with a keyboard zing that nimbly dances across unexpected note progressions.
The exchange between “I Can’t Escape Myself” and “Heartland” is characteristic of the album writ large—brooding suspicion followed up by amphetamine-y mania. (Is it really a surprise that the band was beset by drug addictions and internally and externally imposed turmoil?) “Words Fail Me”, The Sound’s version of a “love song,” is as curious and angular as you’d expect from someone as anxiety-ridden and troubled as Brody comes off as being. It pops with horns and jumps with desperation, guitar rapid-firing a single note throughout the vocal acrobatics of the chorus. The melodramatic and shadowy “Missiles” follows, and it could be more of a departure. “Who the hell makes those missiles/ When we know what they can do?” Brody implores. Whether located in the government or in the depths of their own collective consciousness, the world is filled with forces beyond The Sound’s control.
All this, and I haven’t even touched the album’s best tracks: the roller-coasting “Heyday” and asymmetrical, supernatural “Desire”, not to mention the jaw-dropping live rendition of “Brutal Force”. Feel free to debate me on these selections, as so much of the album overflows with brilliance that it’s endlessly hard to pick a favorite. In fact, I’m stupefied in trying to figure out another superlative I could give to this tremendous record. Let’s just say, Jeopardy far surpasses my humble writing ability. I hope, for your own sake, that it’s not missing from your record collection for much longer.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/sound-jeopardy/