The BBC Recordings
aint me with a bucketful of wow and post me to the BBC! They deserve much love for their seemingly unending archive of excellence. ‘BBC session’ is practically a hallmark for musical lushness, and it’s comforting to have such things to cling to in today’s mixed-up, crazy world of scientific haircare products and pot noodles. Also deserving of a complimentary fruit-basket of joy are the good people at Renascent, who’ve been busying themselves championing the cause of rather marvellous ‘missing from 80’s namechecks, presumed rubbish’ band The Sound; in the form of various re-releases. Of which this is another one. Of them. Except not quite (unless you taped the original broadcasts, or something.)
As a rather cheap and cheerful method of aligning your musical compass with The Sound’s .. err.. sound; try to imagine this hypothetical house of harmony. Echo and the Bunnymen live on the roof, Joy Division lurk in the reverb-heavy basement, The Cure pop around for tea sometimes and The Sound sit in the living room with the curtains closed wondering if they could convince the others into helping them sort the garden out a bit. The garden of black roses, obviously. Capable of oppressive gloom and fiery beauty in equal measure, this double-cd compilation captures the band at their intense best throughout two early BBC sessions and two separate ‘In Concert’ performances.
I’ve always felt that BBC sessions exist in a curious half-lit twilight world, floating in the space between carefully nurtured album tracks and full-on live gigs. In this world everything is played with a touch more urgency than normal, but retains clarity in a way that only a web of cunningly placed microphones can. Although no doubt present, the producer doesn’t have time to flap around the studio wondering if the snare drum should have undetectable amounts of reverb added to it; preventing him from gradually bleeding all life from the record until it is nothing but an empty husk. An empty husk riddled with crap tunes.
Such measured spontaneity (if such a concept can exist) is evident as The Sound blast through a couple of sessions that showcase tracks from stand-out albums Jeopardy and From the Lions Mouth. Everything sounds wonderfully raw, forever hinting at being dangerously close to spilling over without ever actually doing so - even when shards of guitar fiercely explode across a track, dragging (and I could almost choose anything here) “Heartland” and “Jeopardy” into stratospheres of greatness. Where I believe they are still orbiting. The closer, “New Dark Age”, is a brooding epic of a track; towering drumming, pseudo-apocalyptic vocals and a jagged guitar line that suggests the end times may be greeting us sooner than we think. Possibly with a sandwich and a cheeky wink. But probably not.
After a brief DJ-tastic introduction by Pete Drummond (suddenly, all those Smashey and Nicey sketches make so much more sense) everything properly kicks off again on the ‘In Concert’ cd. There’s a certain degree of repetition here as the first show covers similar ground to the ‘sessions’ disc. However, this matters less than it might due to the suitably different live setting and the continued excellence of performance from all concerned. The lively “Winning” appears as a handy reminder that The Sound were by no means perpetually bleak; a declaration that brightness can always be reached beyond the shadows.
Frontman Adrian Borland is in outstanding vocal form; expressing restraint where necessary, but equally inclined to let fly with a passionate, tormented ire that acts as the perfect mirror for his expressive guitar work. This disquiet becomes increasingly noticeable on the concluding segment of live tracks, taken from a much later performance in 1985. As Sound drummer Mike Dudley states in the sleeve notes ‘It’s not a comfortable listen,’ especially in view of Borland’s tragic suicide. Although feeling slightly voyeuristic to hear, the sad reality of his troubled state lends an undeniable edge to already powerful tracks like “Missiles.” Repeated and increasingly desperate cries of ‘who the hell makes those missiles?’ leave a poignant and lasting impression. When “Burning Part of Me” is introduced as ‘.. a song about the only real way out,’ it delivers a chill.
The BBC Recordings find The Sound at the peak of their collective talents, performing some of their very best material. I have the handy excuse of not being born when they first appeared and thus shoulder no guilt for their subsequent underexposure, but it’s time for the rest of the world to make amends; beginning with suitable recognition for this fine record.