Articles / Reviews

The Sound - Interview with Allan Jones (Melody Maker 31-3-1984)

date: Mar 31, 1984


 

BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT ... 

The lowest point for all of us," Adrian Borland said, "was at the beginning of last year. 'All Fall Down' had been the most poorly received album we'd released, WEA didn't promote it at all, in fact, I don't think they even wanted to put it out, they thought it was just too uncommercial. Then in January,' 83, they decided they weren't going to renew our contract and we really thought we'd blown it.
 

"I remember we were sitting around our drummer's place in Kingston, discussing what we were doing to do next and I thought, 'We're no better off than if we were four bricklayers discussing this. In fact, four bricklayers could probably form a band and be more successful tomorrow than we are now after three or four years. . ' "But, really, we just thought, no it's too easy to pack it in. We still believed in the band, we realised that our enthusiasm was still there; we just had to pick ourselves up and get back to work. It was reassuring, really, to realise that our early idealism hadn't been blunted by four years in the music business. From then on, it was a case of us starting rehearsing again in someone's front room, just like in the early days, and suddenly it was all there again, the energy and determination, the original spirit of The Sound, It was like a total rejuvenation, "And now we're back," Borland grinned, treating the prospect of a return to active service with an understandable relish after a year on the shelf, "We survived," he said defiantly.

"A lot of groups don't Bristling with the scalding passion of Adrian Borland's compassionate songs, "Jeopardy", the group's 1980 debut album, was one of that year's most arresting noises, clocking in only a few points behind Elvis Costello's "Get Happy!!" and Talking Heads "Remain In Light" on this writer's own end-of-term report. Even more thoroughly assured and polished by a persuasive Hugh Jones production, the following year's "From the Lion's Mouth" was an impressive refinement of the first LP's sensational shriek, and confirmed The Sound as an increasingly vivid alternative to the emerging shallowness of Eighties' pop. The Sound's appeal, however, seemed destined to be confined to critical circles. Widespread popularity evaded them. Good reviews couldn't guarantee them an audience. Already restless, their record company was aghast when they heard the kind of uncompromising extremes negotiated by the group on their third album, the notorious "All Fall Down". A bleak salute to dark entertainments, "All Fall Down" was a perverse contradiction of every prevailing notion of commerciality. Listening to it was like having something particularly unhealthy, something quite positively unhinged, enter your life. 

A commercial disaster, "All Fall Down" marked the final break with WEA, unsettled the group's most fervent supporters and precipitated a year of crisis and bleak uncertainty that saw The Sound perilously close to sealing the envelope on their career. Borland remains chastened by those months of doubt, feels simultaneously encouraged by the resolution the group displayed in surviving such a difficult, depressing time, thinks The Sound are stronger now, more capable of dealing with the demands and considerations of an increasingly impetuous and volatile music business. 'We were very naive when we started," he said. -We thought we could make it just on our ability, the quality of our songs. Our intention now is simply to make what we think are good records. That's all we want to do. Obviously, I'd still love to be on "Top Of The Pops", I'd love to play a sell out tour of this country, but if that doesn't happen, it's not the end of the world anymore. As long as the records are good, sometimes that's all I care about." After eight months of frustrated negotiations with companies like A&M, EMI, CBS and Virgin an offer came in from the independent label Statik: they loved the songs, wanted the group - it was as simple as that, The Sound responded to Statik's enthusiasm, decided they'd maybe feel more comfortable with a small label after their experience with WEA, where they'd always been considered rather superfluous, never a priority, and were soon scribbling their signatures above the small print.

It will be Statik, then, who next month release The Sound's new six-track mini-album, "Shock Of Daylight". Featuring the brightest, most emotionally uplifting and vivid music The Sound have recorded since "Jeopardy", "Shock Of Daylight" burns off the haze of depressed disillusion and violent disenchantment that lingered like a shroud over "All Fall Down". Genuinely, this is a new Sound. Mobile, fresh, romantic, bursting with melodic zeal, "Shock. Of Daylight" is less preoccupied with the morbid introversions of previous Sound records than it is with addressing the world with a vital new energy, a commanding urgency. I think, Borland explained, that we've put the darkness of, say, 'All Fall Down' behind us now. Occasionally, on songs like 'Winter', the lyrics are still sombre, but this record's got more of a colourful gloom about it. The sombreness is tempered by a much more melodic content. This was a definite attempt to communicate more after 'All Fall Down'. I think the performances still have a typical Sound intensity, but we're not trying so hard anymore. We're not wearing everyone out. There's more assurance in what we've been doing recently, it's like the power of restraint. It's more seductive, more insidious. I remember last year when we were coming back from Stockholm or Copenhagen on a ferry, and it was one of those nights when everybody gets drunk and you get the band lolling all over the ship, crashing into the walls an falling overboard, and we had a band talk, you know, and we said, 'Right, more seduction - that's what we've got to go for. So we did, but not, I think, in a way that makes us sound bland or insipid or simply more commercial. It's just that we wanted this record to sound more hopeful, like a glimpse of better days. People probably think we are totally dour from listening to our earlier albums, but we have days when we feel really good, like everybody else. And of course it's on those days that you wonder why you can't f eel like that all the time. And you know realty that you just can't, it's that simple: but that's the feeling you push for, that you hope to attain. Everybody wants to be somewhere else, you know. They don't know where, just as long as it's better than what we know and what we have already." 

Two of the most striking aspects of "Shock Of Daylight", apart from The Sound's new visionary glare, are Borland's voice, which is here pitched up an octave from the sonorous bleat of previous outings and now emerges as a potent vocal strike force, capable of curling toes at unreasonable distances with its stratospheric roaming (listen to the beguiling chorus on the mighty "Longest Days" or the torrential asides of "A New Way Of Life", or the impassioned declarations of "Counting The Days"), and his guitar playing, which virtually dominates the record. Previously curt, violent, quite psychotic on earlier cuts like "New Dark Age" (where Borland turned in one of the most incendiary guitar solos since Lou Reed's "I Heard Her Call My Name"), Borland's playing on "Shock Of Daylight" achieves luminous new heights of lyrical intensity that bring him closer to, say, the inscrutable melodic flamboyance of R.E.M.'s Peter Buck or the delicate etchings of The Smiths Johnny Marr than the pompous extrapolations of blustering show-offs like The Edge or Stuart Adamson, Mentioning this kind of observation to Borland, one meets only with scorn; if anyone thinks this new instrumental emphasis in The Sound is an attempt to bring the group into some kind of line with the likes of puffing oafs like U2 he doesn't want to know. "It's almost this year's thing, isn't it?" he demanded rhetorically. "Religion. But I can't say I like U2's attitude. Like Bono, it's too transparent. Waving your flag, walking on water. I fear he has this immensely grand idea of himself that you can almost hear in the music. It's terribly false. Bono, he's become like this godlike creature who walks the earth, barely touching the ground, I'm usually under the round, myself, or at least on the floor." Adrian finished off another tumbler of wine, to underline the last mentioned sentiment. "There was a time, like I mentioned earlier, when it looked like the Sound had sort of become "The Serious Young Men Of Their Generation'. Then we did 'All Fall Down'. After that no one knew if we were serious about anything at all. Now, though, I think Bono's really assumed that title, and he probably loves it. Probably, Morrissey 'd better too. I mean, he's already half way there, Frankly, if that had ever, you know, really happened to us, that would have been the coffin lid coming down as far as I'm concerned. 

Wrapping up the conversation, looking forward to The Sound's appearance this Wednesday night at the Marquee, the release of -Shock Of Daylight" on vinyl (which will mean a respite for a recently besieged Walkman whose circuits have buzzed to nothing much these lost few weeks apart from "Longest Days" and "Counting The Days") and the prospect of a full LP before the end of the year, I asked Adrian Borland how he'd like to have The Sound remembered if, say, Albanian Whaling Songs became next year's Big Thing and The Sound were permanently cast adrift. He laughed, embarrassed, wondering over his wine glass and the several bottles between us already whether or not I was joking, "You really want an answer to a question like that?" he asked. Apparently, I did, "Alright, he said. "I'd like the Sound to be remembered as four people who weren't afraid to put what they felt onto their records. Will that, do?" It did.

Allan Jones (Melody Maker 31-3-1984) 



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