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The Sound - From The Lions Mouth review (Uncut 2004)

date: Oct 5, 2004


 

Great albums that have fallen off the critical radar. 

FROM THE LIONS MOUTH 
by THE SOUND 

In an ideal world. From The Lion's Mouth would be as revered as Closer, Boy or Heaven Up Here. 

WHEN ADRIAN BORLAND died in 1999 - it seems he jumped in front of a train - he'd been suffering from a schizoid affective disorder for many years. Although he was in the process of recording his final album Harmony And Destruction at the time, and therefore enthused and energised, he was generally very frustrated. Like most not-quite-famous musicians, he thought his work deserved greater acclaim. The thing is, he was right. His band The Sound were one of the early '80s' finest. The fact that, as that decade began, they were tipped to be bigger than peers like Echo And The Bunnymen, U2 and Joy Division made the subsequent commercial "failure" even harder to take. It ate away at Adrian, but whenever he was playing - especially in Holland and Belgium where large audiences agreed with him that he was a rock god - he was in the zone, in the moment, and probably as happy as a tortured soul can be. 

Hope remains that eventually, somehow, the records of The Sound will reach more people. I'd hazard a guess they've reached Interpol and other currently chic New York groups. Converts already know that they blaze with intensity. Jeopardy, their debut, is a good one. All Fall Down is astonishing. But the greatest of these is From The Lion's Mouth, a monumental work of rock'n'roll angst, punk-ish thrust and smouldering soul which set reviewers slavering and which everybody knew was going to make the band crossover-massive. Cruelly, it didn't. Post-punk was ceding way to synth-pop, the spirit of Iggy, Patti and Lou (Borland's heroes) wasn't in vogue, and the label put more push behind the prettier lan McCulloch, to Adrian's considerable chagrin. The Sound were an unlucky band. "Everything I touch turns to dust", goes the track "Contact The Fact", "and everyone I turn to turns on me". In an ideal world, From The Lion's Mouth would be as revered as Closer, or Boy, or Heaven Up Here, which was produced by Hugh Jones during the same period. 

The Sound, formerly Peel favourites The Outsiders (who made the first British punk album released with a band's own money), emerged from south London and Surrey. Adrian and bassist Graham Green had known each other since they were seven. "We naively wanted to change the world political scene," Green has recalled. Michael Dudley played drums, Max Mayers keyboards. Max died of AIDS on Boxing Day 1993. "I've only recently begun to get over Adrian's and Max's deaths," Green told me a couple of years ago. "The band was my life for so long, a marriage of sorts. It's only now that I'm able to listen to the records and enjoy them again My son thinks they're very cool." " This was going to be it, then," writes Dudley on the sleevenotes to the Renascent reissue. " The big, important second album. Stardom beckoned (so they told us)." The band checked in at Rockfield studios in Monmouth, met Hawkwind checking out. They stayed in a haunted house. "It was the start of Generalissimo Thatcher's '80s, the New Dark Age." 

The album itself starts with the roof-peeling "Winning", a whirlpool of defiance, as close to triumphalism as the band ever got." I was going to drown, then I started swimming / I was going down, then I started... winning." Borland sings with a heart full of pride. As an opening track it's a tough act to follow, but Lion's Mouth just roars from top to bottom. The problem one encounters when describing The Sound's music is that it's full of qualities like passion, power, spirit... devalued nouns, but here entirely appropriate and authentic. Adrian often opined that U2 later stole his chorus to "The Fire" - he had a point. His guitar playing on that track is so fast and furious, you can smell smoke. 

"Sense Of Purpose" is a great example of the unit's cunning grasp of tension and dynamics. They understand Borland's self-examining, self-questioning lyrics well enough to know when to tread lightly and when to let rip. Very few bands have ever done multiple climaxes within the three-minute framework as exhilaratingly as this, Imagine the atmosphere (no pun intended) of Joy Division and the fury of prime Stooges working out a symbiotic relationship. "TV Eye" meets "She's Lost Control ".You're thinking I'm making preposterous claims here. Unless you've heard it. 

The Sound were everybody's favourite live band at the time: they scorched. Cynics would stagger blinking from gigs, having trod a yellow brick Damascene road. " Skeletons" and "Possession" were among the stand- outs. It was all stand-outs. "Silent Air"-"you showed me that silence can speak louder than words" - is a love song, a low, lost-and-found rumble, the distant thunder that always seemed to underpin these eternal underdogs' outpourings. "Judgement" and "Fatal Flaw" are high on weariness, drunk on despair. "New Dark Age", the finale, with its ominous drum pattern, vague politicising and contender for hottest, most anguished rock guitar break this side of James Williamson/Tom Verlaine is impossibly grand and involving. From The Lion's Mouth was reviewed like the Second Coming. "This could be the end of the line for me and 'rock' records," wrote Steve Sutherland in Melody Maker. "It's that good." 

For a brief optimistic freeze-frame, The Sound were set to speed past Bono, Mac, the others. But no. Korova favoured Heaven Up Here, and The Sound's A&R man moved to LA. Dudley reckons they were " dumped on the parent company, Warners, as a write-off against tax. Things got nervy. They pressured us to go corporate rock, expected us to be the new Genesis or something. The going got weird and perverse, and so did we." Everyone sulked, the next album All Fall Down leaned towards the experimental, the band were dropped. They released more great albums, and some good ones, and split in '87, after which Adrian Borland went solo. But the big stage wouldn't let him past the velvet rope. He was harshly perceived as a gifted underground "loser", but here - just listen to it - he was winning. 

Touring to promote Lion's Mouth, Dudley broke his hand in Italy. He played one show with his arm in plaster, but the important gig supporting U2 at The Lyceum a few days later had to be cancelled. Story of The Sound's life? Maybe. But the real story of their life is on the albums. And it's probably best told on this: their confident, swaggering yet hurting pinnacle, their small, telling victory, their huge statement for posterity, their championship season. Somewhere up there, Adrian's telling St Peter how great it is. The godfather of "lost" classics. 

CHRIS ROBERTS 

LABEL: 1981, Warners Korova, 2002, reissue on Renascent 

PRODUCER: Hugh Jones 

MUSICIANS: Adrian Borland (vocals, guitars), Graham Green (bass), Max Mayers (keyboards), Michael Dudley (drums) 

TRACKS: Winning • Sense Of Purpose • Contact The Fact • Skeletons • Judgement • Fatal Flaw • Possession • The Fire • Silent Air • New Dark Age

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