Thursday, 11 September 2014

The Sound - Jeopardy / From the Lion's Mouth / All Fall Down ...Plus (2014)

Here's an odd one, at least from where I've been stood. I was most certainly sentient between 1980 and 1982 - spanning the original release dates of these three albums - and not only was I sentient, but I was possibly at the most rabidly teenaged stage of my record collecting, a period during which I could pick even a Classix fucking Nouveaux album from the rack and wonder to myself what it sounded like. These years also happened to be the only time of my life during which I managed to keep diaries going right through until December. I'm presently transcribing some of these diaries for my own entertainment, and I have in particular noted firstly just how much I obsessed over certain bands at that age, and secondly, how little sense any of the rest of it makes thirty years down the line. I have therefore found myself having to look up quite a lot of stuff on the internets and the Googles in order to work out what the hell I was writing about, and it is during one such search that YouTube suggested I might also like to have a listen to New Dark Age by the Sound on the grounds of my watching something else that had happened in the same year. The cover art of both Jeopardy and From the Lion's Mouth - the first two albums - looked vaguely familiar, but I had never heard of the Sound. Then I recalled them as the band which had appeared on the front of issue seventeen of Alternative Sounds, the Coventry based fanzine produced by Martin of Attrition and which had been mentioned on Look! Hear! on the telly and everything. I went to the vault to investigate, but it was actually a band called the Silence who had appeared on said cover. Sound and silence - I suppose you can see how I might get them confused. Anyway, I recalled New Dark Age as something once recorded by SPK - a satisfyingly portentous title if ever there was - and so I clicked on the video to see what these Sound lads had been about.

A week later, I've developed such an obsession that I'm making my way through the four discs of this reissue of their first three albums, playing them over and over and over, and I'm seriously fucking bewildered as to how this bunch somehow escaped my attention. How they slipped past my teenage radar I will never know, given that they weren't particularly obscure, as indicated by the John Peel sessions and BBC Live in Concert bonus disc included here. The only explanation I have is that the Sound only exist in retrospect, their entire career having been retrofitted to the early eighties by some time-active power.

The excessive ghastitude of my flabber is down to the Sound being so much the distillation of everything I loved at the age of fifteen in musical terms that it seems inconceivable that I should only discover them now, three decades later. I suppose you might describe them as a cross between Wire and Joy Division with more of a power pop sensibility; except the more you listen, the poorer a fit such comparisons seem; and was there really ever a half decent band who suffered those Joy Division comparisons aside from Joy Division themselves? Maybe it would be better to suggest the Sound were quite clearly sprung from that same well of emotionally volatile post-punk which yielded Echo & the Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes and U2 - before they turned into Rio Tinto-Zinc - but then the Sound clearly pissed all over those bands too. Maybe the Sound were how we all hoped New Order would turn out, how New Order might have been had they not spunked up the entirety of their potential on that first album.

Well whatever, the Sound are - or I suppose were - sparse, punchy, tuneful, and intense, the song writing is of such absurdly powerful quality as to mean there's not a single track to be skipped amongst these four discs. Almost everything here could have been a hit single had we not been distracted by all the other shit that was around at the time, Bauhaus and the Cure and all those other sucked-in cheeks tosspots who somehow managed to forge out careers without a single decent album to their names. I Can't Escape Myself, Contact the Fact, Winning, Sense of Purpose, Party of the Mind, Monument, Calling the New Tune, Skeletons, Unwritten Law - one of those rare wonders wherein the bassline seems to bear no relation to the rest of the song and yet it all fits together with absolute perfection of intent, and Missiles - one of the most emotionally powerful anti-nuclear songs I've heard... all air-punchingly fine; and after a while you realise there's not much joy in picking out individual tracks, there being nothing which lowers the average, not even the four rare tracks recorded with Kevin Hewick who at first sounds like one of those horrible sub-Bowie types from some mushroom tea based Canterbury group. Even the live material sounds amazing, which is something very few groups ever managed on disc, in my view.

After three weeks of this lot on heavy rotation, I had to force myself to pack away the box and listen to something else. Absurd though it may seem, the Sound were just too good, too powerful. Never mind hairs stood up on the back of the neck, some of this stuff was beginning to bring tears to my eyes. I'm slightly fucked off that it's taken me thirty years to discover this group - particularly considering the tripe I've endured in a similar vein which isn't anything like so good - but better late than never.

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