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The Sound - BBC Recordings review (Hybrid Magazine)

date: May 4, 1999


 

Hot on the heels of Renascent's reissues of most of The Sound's studio albums, comes this double CD compilation of the band's sessions and live shows for the BBC. It's a real gem, and serves as an excellent introduction for the uninitiated.

Music lovers of today couldn't be blamed for not having heard of The Sound; they made a few waves back in the early 80's, but never got the acclaim they deserved. Led by singer / guitarist Adrian Borland, the band had a unique and absorbing post punk sound, with Colvin Mayers' keyboards a major element in the mix along with Borland's slashing guitar leads and the crack rhythm section of Graham Bailey (bass) and Mike Dudley (drums) driving things along. This group should have at least been as big as Echo and the Bunnymen (but then the Bunnymen should have been as big as U2, so I'd better not go down that particular primrose path ... )

The BBC Sessions consists of one CD containing two four-song sessions from 1980 and 1981, and a second CD containing two live concerts from 1981 and 1985 (and complete with quaint "old-school BBC" introductions by the plummy voiced Pete Drummond, pop pickers !) As with most BBC releases, the group benefits from the stripped down, quick fire session approach. The 1980 session, featuring songs from the first album Jeopardy, frequently surpasses the studio versions; not all that surprising given that the band felt that Jeopardy was really just a set of demos. The 1981 tracks don't quite reach the level of Hugh Jones' productions on From the Lions Mouth, but Borland's gripping songwriting and singing, coupled with band performances that are in complete sympathy with the material, make the session a worthy addition the The Sound's recorded ouptut.

For my money, having never had the chance to experience the band live, the real revelations are on the in-concert CD. Every song is rendered with an intensity that was only hinted at on the studio albums. Mayers' keyboards cast an icy wash, sometimes carrying the melody and sometimes being used more as additional colour, acting as a co-lead instrument with Borland's jagged guitar lines. Shades of the also almost-forgotten Comsat Angels ... All the while, Bailey and Dudley push the lead players along so that the pace never lets up.

The 1981 concert features the group at the peak of their critical acclaim, with many friends and fans in the audience, and the atmosphere is appropriately triumphant. By the time of the 1985 show, The Sound's star was waning and you can hear the desperation in Borland's performance, but the songs (mostly from the Heads and Hearts album) are almost more compelling for it. The final two, "Whirlpool" and "Missiles", are almost frightening - as Dudley says in his liner notes, "Missiles" is "one of the all-time great screams of rage and defiance ever committed to tape".

It's hard to listen to these later performances and not think of the growing desperation that soon developed into serious mental illness, leading Borland to take his own life in 1999 after splitting the group in 1988. By all accounts, Borland never quite came to terms with The Sound's lack of the success he felt they so richly deserved. He was a man with talent to burn and a band to back it up, and there is no better evidence of that than on these two CDs.

Gareth Bowles - Hybrid Magazine



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