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The Sound were an English post-punk band, formed in South London in 1979 and dissolved in 1988. They were fronted by Adrian Borland, and evolved from his previous band, the Outsiders. While never commercially successful, The Sound have long been championed by critics. The original lineup of the Sound consisted of Adrian Borland (vocals, guitar) and Graham Bailey (bass guitar), both ex-Outsiders, along with Mike Dudley (drums) and Benita “Bi” Marshall (keyboard, saxophone, clarinet). While not a member, ex-Outsider Adrian Janes would contribute ideas and co-write lyrics to the Sound’s music

The Sound made their debut with the EP Physical World in 1979, released on manager Stephen Budd’s Tortch label. It was favourably received by NME and received airplay from DJ John Peel. More of their early recordings were later released as the album Propaganda in 1999.

“Left all alone, I’m with the one I most fear,” Adrian Borland sang on “I Can’t Escape Myself,” the first and best song on The Sound’s 1980 debut album “Jeopardy”, and as conveyed in the 2016 Adrian Borland documentary Walking in the Opposite Direction which just became available to stream on-demand this year that line was more than your typical goth posturing. Adrian was truly his own worst enemy, and he battled serious mental health issues and was in and out of psychiatric hospitals for decades before ultimately taking his own life in 1999. His health issues were at least part of the reason that Adrian never gained the popularity that he truly deserved, but as his father Bob Borland said in Walking in the Opposite Direction, even if The Sound or any of Adrian’s other projects had hit it big, “I’m not sure that Adrian could’ve handled it.”

The documentary traces Adrian’s career from his days fronting the punk band The Outsiders in the late ’70s to fronting the post-punk band The Sound in the ’80s to his solo career in the late ’80s and ’90s, with which he dabbled in jangle pop, folk, alternative rock, psychedelic rock, and more. If you’re a fan of any of Adrian’s bands, I highly recommend watching the documentary and if you’re new to his music, read on for a little primer on Adrian Borland, a natural-born songwriter who really deserves to be better-known.

THE OUTSIDERS
Adrian’s first “real” band was The Outsiders (though around that same time, he apparently had a band with the late Tim Smith of Cardiacs that lasted for like two shows), and The Outsiders rivalled just about any of the great early punk bands. Their first album, 1977’s “Calling on Youth” recorded mostly by Adrian’s father in their home and released on their own Raw Edge label — wasn’t quite there yet, but the potential is overwhelming. Rippers like the title track and “Hit and Run” had all the speed and raw energy you’d expect from ’77 punk, and even that early on, you can hear the power and distinctiveness in Adrian’s voice. That’s really one of the major things that would set The Sound apart in the increasingly crowded post-punk genre, and that makes any Adrian Borland song hit you in the gut, even when it’s not his finest work. He just had one of those voices that stops you in your tracks every time he opened his mouth to sing.

The rippers were fine examples of early punk, but Calling On Youth also had stuff like the haunting acoustic jangle of “Start Over” and the ballad “Walking Through A Storm” that hinted at the music Adrian would make much later on in his career. It’s not exactly the most cohesive album, but it’s a solid teaser of the many sides of Adrian Borland’s music that would get perfected later on. The Outsiders‘ second and final album, 1978’s Close Up, was much more cohesive, and also a pretty major leap from the debut. It was done in a real studio, and it’s one of the true classic albums of ’70s punk. Like a lot of punk albums from that era, it opens with its best song — the catchy, anthemic “Vital Hours” — but the rest of the 11-song album wasn’t too shabby either, and it still sounds urgent and timeless today.

The Outsiders broke up in 1979, and Adrian went to form a few other projects. He and Outsiders bassist Graham Bailey formed the gothy minimal synth duo Second Layer, who released one great album (1981’s World of Rubber) and a couple cool EPs/singles during their short run. He also formed the even shorter-lived The Witch Trials, who were fronted by the Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra (and also included Morgan Fisher of Mott the Hoople), and who released one four-song EP that finds the middle ground between theatre, horror films, industrial, and political commentary (it’s wild to hear 1981’s “The Tazer” in the context of 2020’s protests against police brutality). And most significantly, he formed The Sound, also including Graham Bailey on bass as well as drummer Michael Dudley and keyboardist Belinda Marshall (who was also dating Adrian at the time). Their debut album, 1980’s “Jeopardy”, is among the finest post-punk records ever recorded, and it’s both confusing and criminal that it’s so overlooked today.

THE SOUND

“Jeopardy”, their debut album, was recorded inexpensively and released in November 1980 to critical acclaim; it received 5-star reviews from three major music publications, NME, Sounds and Melody Maker. Jeopardy is a caustic jolt of a debut that startles and fascinates. With the plaintive intro of the rhythm section, a spidery guitar, and incidental synth wobbles. “I Can’t Escape Myself” begins the album unassumingly enough until reaching the terse, one-line chorus that echoes the title of the song; suddenly, from out of the blue, all the instruments make a quick, violent, collective stab and retreat back into the following verse as singer Adrian Borland catches his breath.

The reverb placed on his voice is heightened at just the right moments to exacerbate the song’s claustrophobic slant. The ecstatic onward rush of “Heartland” forms the back end of a dynamic one-two opening punch, with a charging rhythm and blaring keyboards leading the way. Much later on, near the end, “Unwritten Law” comes along as one of the Sound’s best mid-tempo mood pieces –  If you’re thinking this sounds like someone’s telling you that you need Jeopardy just as much as you need Kilimanjaro or Unknown Pleasures or Crocodiles, you’re right again.

Following the album, Marshall left the band and was replaced by Colvin “Max” Mayers, previously in The Cardiacs. For their second album, the band worked with producer Hugh Jones.

“From the Lions Mouth” was released in 1981, to further critical acclaim, though their fanbase hadn’t extended beyond a cult following. The Sound went into the studio with talented producer Hugh Jones on board to accentuate the band’s winning atmospherics. As a result, the sound is fuller, less pungent. And speaking of winning, the snake-charming opener “Winning” is like a dash of cold water in the faces of all the bands that were wallowing and withering away at the weeping well: “I was going to drown/Then I started swimming/I was going down/then I started winning.”

This, in a sense, exemplifies the point that the Sound were not mopes. Most of the record has an effortless thrust to it, and only occasionally — for maximum effect — does the Sound whip out the heavy artillery. If “The Fire” sounds too bombastic and pummeling, listen closer. The bass is the lead instrument, the keyboards are just as prominent as the guitars,

Borland also released a collaborative EP that year with Jello Biafra under the name the Witch Trials.

During the early 1980s, The Sound toured throughout Europe, covering the UK and much of the continent. Like their contemporaries the Comsat Angels (whom they toured with in 1981),  The Sound recorded several Peel sessions and performed the single “Sense of Purpose” on the TV show Old Grey Whistle Test.

In the same year, The Sound released a live EP titled Live Instinct.

Korova Records pressured Borland and his bandmates to come up with a more commercially successful third album, in addition to shifting the Sound from Korova to WEA proper. In an act of rebellion, they responded with “All Fall Down” in 1982, an album that took them even further away from the mainstream. Drummer Mike Dudley explained:
We thought [the label wasn’t] giving us the support that we were due and that if they really wanted a commercial album, they had got to put plenty of money behind it, which with both “Jeopardy” and “From the Lions Mouth” they hadn’t really done .So when they turned around and said, ‘The solution is for you to write more commercial songs’, we thought, ‘Fuck you’, and went ahead and produced All Fall Down.

“All Fall Down” was panned by critics upon its release. Upon receiving the album, WEA decided not to promote it, and the band and the label parted company. The Sound responded to label demands and simmering internal pressures with a record that challenged devout fans as well. All Fall Down is one of those maligned records where some fans bailed but a select few.

In 1983, The Sound released a joint EP in collaboration with singer Kevin HewickThis Cover Keeps Reality Unreal”, on Cherry Red Records.

The band were approached by several labels, ultimately signing with independent label Statik in 1984. They released an EP, Shock of Daylight, which received favourable coverage from the music press. This was followed a year later by the full-length Heads and Hearts which finds them riding the wave of optimism — or maybe it would be better to say enthusiasm, that shot through them as they found themselves revitalized after parting ways with a major label. While nothing here is as sparklingly “up” as the Shock of Daylight EP’s “Golden Soldiers,” and while the lyrics don’t exactly deal with the happier elements of romantic relationships, there’s a sweepingly hopeful sensibility apparent through the arrangements and Wally Brill’s bold, crystalline production.

By 1985, Borland had begun to exhibit symptoms of mental illness, perhaps worsened by the frustrations of his career.

Not long after the 1985 release of a live album, “In the Hothouse”, Statik went into bankruptcy. The band produced one more album, “Thunder Up”, on the Belgian label Play It Again Sam.While touring Spain in 1987, they had to cancel several appearances after Borland suffered a complete breakdown. Dudley recalled bringing an incoherent Borland home on a plane.

The band split up in early 1988.

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