Some bands are so great that you do feel proud to have seen them at their best, and some flickered and flared through a short lifespan during busy times that you only got to see them a few times. The Sound were once such band. Having been interested in the earlier band, The Outsiders, considered by many as too middle class to be Punk, and by those with ears and common sense as invigorating and sometimes weird, I was ready for The Sound. I saw them at places like the Moonlight, ICA and Marquee a few times, and they would never disappoint.
Having lost all my Sound stuff along with just everything else when I had stuff stolen from my flat in the 90’s it is pure delight to be encountering these records again now that Renascent are re-releasing everything, and uncovering rare material too. For anyone who doesn’t yet know The Sound, or wonder how this ties in with anything Punk, Post-Punk and Goth-related that I usually review, just remember they were there at the right time, and anybody with half a brain would agree they can be compared to Joy Division On Steroids, but this wasn’t copying, as The Sound were already established.
It’s a wonderfully abrasive but also emotional album, bulked out by the inclusion of their Live Instinct EP which was originally a promo item in Holland where the band became huge, and within a few lines of ‘I Can’t Escape Myself’ you’d have one reaction: oh, fuck!
‘So many feelingsYou’ll also be asking yourself how can a song seem so empty but be so driven? The drumming is nicely bumpy, there are tinny guitar chippings everywhere and weird alien keyboard sounds, but this was The Sound way as often as not, because this was the time directly after Punk we’re talking about when mere anger gave way to investigation. In Goth that meant mystery and romantic abstraction, but within what was to become Indie circles it meant introverts looking deep, deep inside, and often reflecting back a bleak torment. Singer/guitarist Adrian Borland knew his bleakness all too well. Guitar flashes briefly ignite a torpid chorus, and you’re hooked, then swallowed up by the trim epic that is ‘Heartland’
Reading a Chris Roberts posthumous article on The Sound following Adrian Borland’s suicide, I didn’t realise Borland credited U2 with nicking ‘his stuff’ (you don’t suppose it was them who had my record collection?) and you think pfft, some people and their delusions of grandeur, except there’s a few weird facts to consider. If you had the misfortune to catch early U2 performances around ’79 you’d know how dire they were, and ‘Heartland ‘ (plus Dreaming’) are virtual blueprints, but with a hard, vital feel! So, who can say? (It appears U2 admitted to being fans too.) Live, this song would literally whisk the Audience, with its beautifully chiselled guitar where Raynes Park met Detroit, as they gave us molten indie.
‘Hour Of Need’; where bass is the prominent instrument also does vouch for the soul element in the work (evident even on The Outsiders’ albums), just as ‘Words Fail Me’ is one of their weakest tracks ever, being weirdly fast and twisting, with basic lyrics and groaning sax, but where songs are duller than the majority they’re certainly over quickly, with energy.
‘Missiles’ is another classic, from a time when we really didn’t give a toss, because we sensed the end might be nigh at any day, and live I can still remember Borland’s weird stamping actions as he thudded into his guitar, straining as he sung like a guard dog on the full extent of its chain; as if his whole body was angry and revolted and his organs wanted out. There’s brilliant introductory lyrics, which paint the picture, and then a question, making it direct but never predictable. And then ‘Heyday’ which is a stunning, indignant explosion, with guitar and bass pumping us up for a gigantic chorus.
The title track sees knobbly guitar and firm bass strolling, and maybe Fine Young Cannibals nicked this jerky guitar sound! ’Night Versus Day’ is plainly lugubrious, with a weird clomping passage, ‘Resistance’ is generic mush with skipping keyboards and scatty Punk lyrics, ‘Dreaming’ is a swoon, and ‘Desire’ a very odd closer, with a very sparse feel and untimely finish. The live bonuses then include a jollier ‘Jeopardy’, glowering ‘Brute Force’ so-so ‘Heartland’ and punkish glee in the roughly hewn ‘Coldbeat’, making for a fabulous album over all.
This week is Sound week on the Mercer journal and by the end of it you’ll be queuing up to but the albums or you have no heart, no feel for truly great music, and no lust for appreciating true masters, and I guarantee that if you’re in a band you’ll listen to this and wish that you had written these songs.
I CAN’T ESCAPE MYSELF
FROM THE LIONS MOUTH (Renascent)
~reviewed by Mick Mercer
From its delicate Daniel In The Lions Den cover art, to the replacement of the jagged keyboard sound with a milder froth, this was a more sensitive album than ‘Jeopardy’; the short fuse replaced by a longer one.
‘Winning’ suggests the chill has gone, with an optimistic tune and tensile guitar friction, then the bass goes right through the middle of ‘Sense Of Purpose’ with the sort of plaintive delivery which might give more ringing testament to their influence on U2, in showing them how to do things in a less bombastic manner. The lyrics gets sharper and the mood less flowery in ‘Contact The Fact’, with fabulous vocal control and hold, which moves on into gloomy raises bumps throughout ‘Skeletons’ and overall we’re getting subtle shades here, and becoming embroiled in character.
‘Judgement’ is a beautiful worry, bit with weedy guitar and irritating keyboards hat won’t settle down. ‘Fatal Flaw’ has a fuller, lower sound, as guitars splinter and a sense of emotional doom gathers, while the raw, pained ‘Possession’ sounds like an improved INXS, and ‘The Fire’ has a definite sense of the flaming jitters with bass bounce and skittish drums.
‘Silent Air’ is wonderfully touching, with a superb emotional drag to the haunting vocal performance, and then ‘New Dark Age; is the big send-off, which doesn’t sound as powerful these days, but at the time was a prickly rash of crushed venom. The live recordings of this seem better because more angst exists outside the studio, and if you hang on long enough you get a soppily chirpy ‘Hothouse’.
This is the album which should have pushed them stage centre in the UK but they still found themselves in the wings, and it proved, sadly, that people take little real notice of serious musical journalism because the reviews were extremely positive and the reaction less than immediate, or long-lasting. This was a call to brains which went largely unheeded because with The Sound - horror or horrors! - you might have to work at something, work out various things, whereas you could see aimless bands getting further, which continues to this day. The less on is therefore that if it’s crap but sounds clever it’ll hit hard with the dense majority, but if it has depth the shallow will always be magnetically repulsed.
THE BBC RECORDINGS (Renascent)
~reviewed by Mick Mercer
Radio sessions are usually a hit and mix affair but feed the fan in you, recapturing the past when least expected. During the Peel era of Punk, and immediately thereafter, you’d do what you could to make reasonable recordings, and they usually turned out be rubbish, but there was healthy market for tape sellers down Portobello and outside gigs, so you’d always have that extra chance to catch up. That seemed to die out mid-80’s, and the releasing of BBC session by Strange Fruit was always such a disastrously patchy affair you never thought you’d find anything good in your perceptive net again. It’s only recently, now that everyone and their pet flea is into licensing and ferreting and discovering lost gold, we’re being reintroduced to material, so it’s logical that among all the Sounds’ re-releases an album of BBC material comes to light.
The earliest radio sessions are brittle, with the Mike Read session sporting a jabbing, sparky ‘Heartland, strikingly smooth ‘Unwritten Law’ where the powerful vocals glide above the keyboard drone, and a pleasantly lopsided twang rises through ‘Jeopardy’ but, what the fuck?!!! I mean, the Mike Read show and ‘I Can’t Escape Myself’? That’s like Des O’Connor inviting Hole onto his show. But there we have it, History is a minx. The Peel session is typically sober, solid and as grim as ‘Fatal Flaw’ is. ‘Skeletons’ darts and chimes, ‘Hothouse’ is one step removed from insipid indie twinkling but the brackish ‘New Dark Age’ makes up for it despite the florid keyboard sound.
In Concert naturally brings out the best in them, because there’s a live audience, and I’d forgotten how silly the show sounded, with a small BBC theatre full of friends egging their mates on. Usually you’d be off to gig, as I seem to recall it went out at something like 7.30 on a weekend, so I certainly never heard thee before. The sound does ricochet around a bit and there are some lapses where Borland’s voice wafts backwards, but these are bristling tunes still, with ‘Unwritten Law’, ‘Skeletons’ and ‘Fatal Flaw’ immediately harder than the earlier sessions, and Borland sounds in great voice. ‘Winning’ envelops you, as the voice really starts to grip and the bass turns metallic. ’Sense Of Purpose’ starts by jarring, and the guitar gets buried, ‘Heartland’ is impatient and snappy, while ‘New Dark Age’ is remorselessly taut.
Fast-forward four years and they’ve got their problems, because while the astringent Borland delivery is rampant, and dour, with musical pleasantries tacked on, including acrobatic sax. ‘Golden Soldiers’ sounds like waffle, close to sour pop, and ‘Under You’ seems over-arty, but as ‘Total Recall’ uncoils Borland’s performance is amazing, only to be let down by identikit watchful fare with ‘Burning Part Of Me’ which simply doesn’t click like the two wonderful songs which follow straight on. ‘Whirlpool’ is almost mad, despite the vocals getting a bit lost, and then ‘Missiles’ is scalding.
What else would you expect? Radio is radio and everything veers and soars and drowns and blisters, but the real joy is just hearing it and noting how vigorous and bold it is; a snapshot of former glories and new memories to treasure.
MIKE READ - OCT 1980
ALL FALL DOWN (Renascent)
~reviewed by Mick Mercer
One of the good things about this series of releases is that there are explanatory sleeve notes which tie in with a historical assessment of their career, by drummer Michael Dudley. With this instalment, recorded during 1982, he acknowledges that ‘Lion’s Mouth’ didn’t sell anywhere near as well as their label expected and the pressure was on to come up with Corporate Commercial Rock Classics. “Well,” he remembers, “the going was getting weird, and so were we.” Cue disappointed record execs which is pretty much how it should be.
What emerged on this record must rank as their flattest creations, because it seems entirely unfocussed, lacking any great passion or excitement, preferring instead to tinker with musical ideas which are fragments that are stretched beyond natural redemption, because there’s no emotional base here, merely ambivalent stories,.
It starts badly like someone let Pink Floyd out to bore us with more ‘Walls’-type mush, ‘Party Of The Mind’ is a twittery New Wave bauble, ‘Monument’ is fine, and genuinely aching, ‘Where The Love Is’ seems far too restrained and builds no power, ‘We Could Go Far’ is attractive (apart from the irritating bass sound), but sums up the problem: they’re not going far enough. ‘Song And Dance’ gets ruined midway by posturing excess, and if they’re not being almost farcically busy (‘Red Paint’ has a promising guitar intro, then chokes itself) they’re bordering on stream of unconsciousness (‘Glass And Smoke’), so there’s no helping them. It hasn’t the grit of the earlier albums, and the muso disease seems to be infiltrating, with the drum dementia of the bonus track ‘The One And A Half Minute Song’ showing the album could have been even deadlier. One of the extra tracks which never made the finished work is far superior to most of what’s here, because ‘Sorry’ carries a vigorous guitar threat, but ‘As Feeling Dies’ also slurs into drivel.
Luckily they’d get their momentum back, but this marks something of a turning point, turning some people off in the process.
ALL FALL DOWN
IN THE HOTHOUSE (Renascent)
~reviewed by Mick Mercer
Finally we see them off, with a live recording in 1985 from the Marquee, which was always the perfect place to see any band, and hasn’t been reproduced in London since it was closed and made an abortive attempt to relocate to that useless venue on Charing Cross.
The band are up for it, but loose, giving all manner of their styles enough space to come through. There’s the forlorn angst of ‘Winning’ to get you started, a succulently upbeat ‘Total Recall’, a febrile ‘Skeletons’, and while ‘Prove Me Wrong’ seems dull but they vibrate lustily, even if it takes you into ‘Wildest Dreams’ which is pure U2 (or vice versa, naturally). There’s serious atmosphere with ’Burning Part Of Me’ which doesn’t then escalate with ‘Heartland’, which is disappointingly pale, with a squashed guitar sound. ‘Hothouse’ is suitably bland, but ‘Judgement’ is gorgeous and there were very few bands during the Eighties who handled slow material so well. ‘Counting The Days’ is bubbly, ‘Red Paint’ nervier and much improved on the recorded version, and ‘Silent Sir’ is an epic husk. ‘Sense Of Purpose’ finds guitar cheekily tickling the crowd, before ‘Missiles’ savages them. Add to that a nicely matured ‘Monument’ and a euphoric ‘Fire’ and you’ve got a fantastic reminder, if you can ignore the woman squealing at the start of certain numbers.
SHOCK OF DAYLIGHT and HEADS AND HEARTS (Renascent)
~reviewed by Mick Mercer
And so after their experimental phase went awry, The Sound bounced back with more controlled recordings during 1984, and it works. Through the ‘Shock Of Daylight’ EP we find bright indie rock, full of toppy guitar and artful contrast, where the grim lyrics return with more finesse but the tunes are well crafted. ‘A New Way Of Life’ is a bit mimsy, with bland lyrics, but the mild butting ‘Dreams Then Plans’ sways well, and the real winner is the one dark, forbiddingly cold ‘Winter’ with light synth frosting being the only element added to twangy guitar and Borland’s slow, clear vocals.
Through ‘Head And Heart’s the variety is cool, the ideas neatly framed and you have a natural balance between some burnt-in blandishments about relationship downers, and more heart-wrenchings, which work with slower fuses. It’s all rather graceful, even though the grip is back, with ‘Whirlpool’ seeing power built cautiously, ‘Total Recall’ allows the vocals to shape its direction, and angst flares up in ‘Burning Part Of Me’. At their simplest, in ‘Mining For Heart’, they’re also at their most adventurous, and those songs alone make the album worthwhile. The rest of the songs, including the bonus tracks, all come from an arena of soft-boiled rock, where the lyrics are intelligent but feel flattened through experience, and the jumbled attempts at jagged moods don’t quite work, and there’s one good reason for that.
As the song ‘Love is Not A Ghost’ amply illustrates, The Sound had simply been caught up by too many other bands. This song reminds me of the early recordings of Furniture, and it would be bands like that who used keyboards better, and an army of bands were lining up who hadn’t lost the capacity to really create a storm on vinyl. Which The Sound clearly had. Their rampant energy had gone, but they couldn’t find it in themselves to endlessly go for the blackest route into lyrical torment with music to match, and who, frankly, can blame them? This leaves them tinkering at the periphery with limited sound resources. A lot of the other tracks sound like weak 80’s rock music, with the quality of Borland’s voice, and its familiairty, being the thing holding the vessel together.
The Sound were nearing the end, but on this record there are still enough quality moments for you to take it very seriously.
SHOCK OF DAYLIGHT
ALL CDs available at: http://www.renascent./co.uk