Articles / Reviews

Adrian Borland - Amsterdam Tapes review (Whisperin and Hollerin)

date: Jan 17, 2011


Although his recording career yielded two decades of impressive records with both The Sound and as a solo artist, ADRIAN BORLAND has never been afforded the kind of wide-scale reverence meted out to his contemporaries Bono, Ian McCulloch and Ian Curtis. 

Sadly, like Curtis, Borland’s own life would be cruelly curtailed by his own hand in April 1999 after a long struggle against the effects of bi-polar disorder. Ironically, while Borland was languishing in semi-obscurity in his native Britain at the time, he was within touching distance of completing one of his finest solo albums (‘Harmony & Destruction’) and the Renascent label’s sterling job of re-issuing most of his catalogue with The Sound was about to get underway.

Sadly, though, even the Renascent re-issues are hard to get hold of a decade later and while Adrian’s music has been awarded a fair amount of posthumous goodwill, he remains something of a forgotten giant. On a more positive note, in the one territory where he achieved a decent amount of commercial success (the Netherlands) his work is still highly regarded and it’s mostly down to the efforts of two great Dutch institutions – the Brittle Heaven website and the Red Sun Records label – that his profile remains as high as it does.

‘The Amsterdam Tapes’ is one of several excellent posthumous Borland albums. Released by the Dutch Pop One label (through Red Sun) in 2006, it’s now predictably difficult to track down over here, but equally predictably worth the effort. Its’ 12 songs were initially laid down primarily as demos by Borland and Bart Van Poppel (a member of Borland’s backing band The Citizens) at the latter’s Amsterdam home studio in the summer of 1992, but when they were rejected by the record company they ended up gathering dust in a closet for the next decade. Bringing them to fruition on a wider scale was something of a labour of love for Van Poppel as he not only re-mastered and digitised the tapes, but replaced the original programmed rhythms with live bass and drums, plus adding further tasteful embellishments from guitar, organ, vibes, Celeste and strings where required.

The resulting album doesn’t fall far short of the accomplished ‘Brittle Heaven’ itself and would have made a far better follow-up than the low-key ‘Beautiful Ammunition’ did in 1994. Two of the songs that would be recorded in pared-down form for that album – ‘Ordinary Angel’ and the heart-meltingly lovely ‘White Room’ - appear here in all their revamped glory and effortlessly better the originals, though to be honest the highlights here come generously thick and fast.

The album gets off to a fine start with the confident glide of ‘Fast Blue World’. One of several yearning widescreen anthems here which could easily have given U2 a run for their money in a perfect world, it benefits from fiery guitars and Borland’s commanding croon, as do ‘Ordinary Angel’ and ‘Via Satellite’ where Adrian dropped some heavy hints (“seize the time and market / ‘cos I know you’ve been waiting for a moment like this to be all over the world”) that he felt he should (rightly) have been getting a damn sight more airplay than he ever received. Outside of the Netherlands, anyway.

Elsewhere, there are a couple of Borland’s trademark dark nights of the soul. ‘Darkest Heart’ is all edgy guitars, tribal drums and feelings on a knife edge (“how I want to believe there’s some good in all of us/ but I don’t, can’t deceive myself/ can’t ignore the darkest heart”), while on the album’s centre-piece - the brooding six-minute plus ‘Sea of Noise’ - Adrian ominously yearns for “oblivion come to rescue me...set me free” while broiling guitars tug at the music’s bassline anchor. Intense, in a word.

Some respite is provided by lush, semi-acoustic ballads like ‘Dying’ and ‘Happen’ which are kissed by vibes and organ, while on ‘Liberation Day’, love is literally a battlefield, but the valedictory lyrics (“seems I’ve survived my war/ the bridges I bombed before now span the deepest of oceans”) are perfectly suited to the restrained and elegant backdrop.   ‘Queen’, meanwhile, is Adrian at his most romantic and lovelorn, unashamedly dreaming on with help from acoustic guitars and twinkly Celeste and turning in one of the finest love songs he ever recorded into the bargain.

That Adrian Borland remains a shadowy presence on the fringes of Post-Punk history is all the proof you need that talent alone is not enough to ensure success in this dastardly industry. However, if you’re in the minority still demanding old-fashioned qualities like passion, integrity and soul in your music, then make straight for ‘The Amsterdam Tapes’ and work backwards. I really can’t think of another forgotten hero I can so unreservedly recommend. 

copyright 2010  Whisperin & Hollerin 

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