Articles / Reviews

The sound of the Sound reverberates in White Lies (Guardian)

date: Apr 3, 2009


The 1980s band were a match for the decade's other 'sound and fury' outfits, like Echo and the Bunnymen and the Cure. So why are they nearly forgotten today?

When White Lies' debut album crashed in at No 1 recently, they immediately spawned a host of comparisons for their epic, dark, keyboard-tinged rock. The names that most often came up were Joy Division and Editors. But they remind me of a much less well-known outfit, the late and great the Sound.

The Sound were fronted by Adrian Borland and were another of the clutch of early-80s "sound and fury" groups, combining rage, depression and alienation with fantastic, driving rock. In terms of sheer, bleak, raw power, I'd argue that they were virtually the only band of the period who could hold a candle to Joy Division. They were as grand as Echo and the Bunnymen. For lyrical prowess and album artwork, they at least match 80s Cure.

In fact, it was the enticing cover of debut album Jeopardy that first alerted me to them, while browsing through the racks. The first Sound song I heard was Winning, on a Peel session in 1981, and it's still the purest, most uplifting blast of defiance in the face of a crisis I've heard ("I was going down, and then I started winning"). Shortly afterwards, I invested in 1981's From the Lions Mouth, their best album and a classic. If you have ever been thrilled by Closer, Crocodiles or Faith, there's simply no excuse not to own it.

At the heart of the Sound was Adrian Borland's troubled but never defeated world view. Once of the appropriately named punk band the Outsiders, he sang of future problems, both global and personal (New Dark Age), and crippling failings (check the lyrics for Fatal Flaw). Like Ian Curtis, he was a poet and a prophet of doom. At the time, their albums received rapturous reviews ... and yet, it never happened for them. Their record company wanted more commercial songs; the band defiantly became less commercial. But crucially, the public just said no, and in fashion-crazy 80s Britain, it's possible the Sound's failure was partly down to their image. Ian Curtis looked like a Dostoevskian magician; Ian McCulloch had kissable lips and fantastic hair; Robert Smith looked like a Lewis Carroll weirdo. By contrast, Borland – schoolboyish and chubby-cheeked – looked like an agitated bank clerk.

Unlike some, however, Borland wasn't just flirting with disturbance and alienation – he fought a constant battle with depression and at one point suffered a complete nervous breakdown. After the Sound's 1988 split, Borland embarked on a solo career and achieved some success in Europe, but was a troubled man, increasingly involved with alcohol. I was introduced to him once at a gig in the 1990s, when – beer in hand – he thanked me profusely for "all those wonderful reviews" and for helping his band get some recognition. There were tears in his eyes and he was clearly thrilled to be reliving the memories. I hadn't the heart to tell him that I wasn't even writing when the Sound were touring, and that he'd mistaken me for someone else.

Shortly afterwards, in 1999, the troubled undercurrent to those lyrics received a terrible vindication when he threw himself under a train. At just 41, he left behind him some 20 albums and some thrilling memories. 

Dave Simpson - Guardian

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