The Sound (of a Troubled Genius) part 2 – From The Lion’s Mouth

 

 

 

 

‘Jeopardy’ had the songs but it was evident that it was recorded cheaply and lacked the necessary production to push it into the upper echelons. Enter name producer, Hugh Jones, a bigger budget and a gatefold sleeve. It immediately looks the part with a glossy sleeve and an arty picture of a slave bound and facing a pride of lions (cover concept Howard Hughes whom I assume is notorious recluse Adrian Borland being mischievous).

As soon as the crashing chords of ‘Winning’ hit, it’s evident that money has not just been spent on the cover. Everything that was promising on the first LP is realised here. The urgency, the desperation, the aspiration are all here but this time sounding as though they encompass the whole of humanity rather than just one man. Whilst ‘ Jeopardy sounded as if Borland was going to be ground down, the opening track displays a determination to survive: “When you’re on the bottom / You crawl back to the top / Something pulls you up / And a voice says you can’t stop.” This sheer will to survive continues into the second track ‘Sense of Purpose’ where Borland recalls the passion of ‘Heartland’ demanding that we use our brains and emotions in decisions we make: “A call to arms, a call to use arms / A call to brains, a call to use some brains / A call to the heart, a call to have a heart / To have a sense of purpose again. ” And then there follows a guitar solo that wrenches the heart out of you, a guitar solo that makes you punch the air and bow down to follow the doctrine of St Adrian. On ‘Judgement’, Borland is prepared to take the consequences of his actions aware of there being no god to ultimately judge us: “I will push at the powers that be / I will pull you close to me / And if I fall I go gracefully / No regrets, don’t pour your pity on me.”

Well, Adrian makes an attempt on here to be as optimistic as he can but ultimately the old uncertainties resurface. On ‘Contact The Fact’, “Everything I touch / Turns to dust / And everyone I turn to / Turns on me.” In ‘Skeletons’, “There’s a gaping hole in the way we are / With nothing to fill it up any more.” And his own sense of mental disintegration is never clearer than on ‘Fatal Flaw’ and ‘Possession’, the tracks that end and begin sides one and two of this LP and are the centrepiece of the record. If you’re a fan already, you will know that Adrian threw himself in front of a train whilst resisting medication for his mental disorder (worried that the medication affected his creative abilities). On ‘Fatal Flaw’ he appears to recognise the distance between normality and how he is: “We all have weakness / Moments that we can’t contain / Right now I’m all weakness / I’ll make another retreat again.” The bipolar nature of Adrian’s condition is even more apparent on ‘Possession:’ “There’s a devil in me / Trying to show his face / There’s a god in me / Wants to put me in his place. ” Arguably (very arguably as The Sound have so many great songs), ‘Possession’ is my favourite as it seems to contain all of the essential ingredients of Borland’s songwriting and musical gifts. There are the lyrics which are so obviously wrenched from the deepest recesses of his soul; there is the pent up emotion in the verse which just explodes in the chorus where Borland is desperately trying to hang on to some sort of normality: “I’ve got to get a hold of myself / I’ve got to be in possession;” and when words fail him, there is the explosive guitar solo that transcends all words and all emotions. It’s a song that leaves you mentally and physically exhausted and yet, ironically at the same time, hopeful that the singer can get himself in a state of possession.

The final two tracks are far quieter, I hesitate to say contemplative because there are few Borland songs that are not. ‘Silent Air’ could be interpreted as a love song with the singer enraptured by another: “You showed me that silence / That haunts this troubled world / You showed me that silence / Can speak louder than words.” However, to me, it sounds almost as though Borland recognises a kindred spirit who took his own life just the year before. In this context, it’s a chilling song acknowledging that Borland can understand why Ian Curtis hanged himself and is considering death as an option for himself. It’s not made any easier by the final track ‘New Dark Age’ where “We’ve broken our fingers / Broken our faith / Broken our hearts so many times they can’t / Be broken any more,” and all Borland has to look forward to: “Here it comes / A new dark age.”

‘From The Lion’s Mouth’ is the LP that should have had the world genuflecting at Borland’s feet. With so many pretenders out there, this was the genuine article. Here was an artist, at the height of his powers, showing us man, naked vulnerable and desperately trying to survive against all the odds. Adrian Borland was such a man, a real man.

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26 Responses to The Sound (of a Troubled Genius) part 2 – From The Lion’s Mouth

  1. Glad to see The Sound getting their due from new fans. Great post, just want to make a comment on why they might not have gotten as much acclaim as they deserved.

    Sound fans like myself are always saying they should have gotten the same recognition as Echo and the Bunnymen, Psychedelic Furs, Simple Minds, etc. But good and underrated as they were, I think there’s a reason for this — three in fact:

    1) Song Structure. Too unadventurous compared to, say, Bunnymen, who in the early ’80s released a string of varied and unpredictable singles. Each one was like an event and demanded you pay attention: Cutter, Killing Moon, etc. I hasten to say here that I am NOT a big Bunnymen fan but they deserve credit for being risk-takers. Most songs by The Sound have similar structure.

    2) Singing. Borland’s voice was better than Curtis’s, McCulloch’s, Kerr’s and Butler’s and any other post-punk singer for that matter. So good that he could go directly to the emotion with none of the mannerisms of the competition. But mannerism was part of the success formula in those days — it let you off the hook and could attract the dollars of casual listeners. It also provided a gimmick, an angle. Borland is too sincere, too plausible. We love him for it but not everyone was going to bite.

    3) Attitude. Apparently, the band rebelled when their label told them to be more commericial. Other bands found creative ways to align their artistic and commercial interests. You won’t go anywhere if you don’t do that.

      

    • Thanks for responding, Paul. Both your intelligent comments here and on Eric Clapton were welcome. I have been a fan of The Sound since I was 16, so I am not sure that a 16 year fascination makes me a new fan. I saw Adrian play a solo acoustic gig in a pub in South Wimbledon when I was a teenager in about 1997/8. There were probably only about 50 people there and I sat and chatted to him at the bar afterwards. He had put on a lot of weight and, frankly, did not look at his best. But his voice was still wonderful and he was very charming to an annoying French teenager who just wanted to talk about The Sound.

        

  2. Ha! Sorry for that. I read something about “Dad’s collection of early-80s records” in the Guardian interview and pegged you as a bit younger. Again, my apologies. Hope I wasn’t coming off like a condescending old fart!

      

    • No problem – I wish I was younger. I’m 32 and my father’s 54. He was 18 in 1976 at the start of punk and has this amazing collection of original records stretching over a decade. I am currently doing my best to steal as many as I can.

        

  3. Mike Dudley

    Thanks for the kind words, “arty”.

      

    • No thankyou for being part of one of my favourite bands of all time. Much love, Charlotte x

        

    • Ron

      oi

        

  4. Ron

    Hey Paul,

    I think I would put image of the lead singer at number one rather than song structure. I’m not too familiar with Echo’s work, so I don’t know how much more adventurous they were, but I think The Sound were adventurous enough. Borland looked very much like an everyday man, and unfortunately that could have conflicted with the shallowness that comes along with the music industry. Like Julian Cope wrote, for some people the music isn’t enough.

    I love The Sound and a few of their songs should definitely be considered classics, along with some of their albums. Borland was an incredible songwriter, vocalist, and melodic guitarist.

      

    • Thanks for posting though rather confused as why you think I’m a male called Paul. Still, if that’s who you want me to be …

        

      • I think he means me. (And it’s true, Ron, no one ever made it Pop without caring about image.)

          

        • Sorry I’m in Beirut trying to communicate with people on a dodgy, ancient notebook and an uncertain internet connection. I’ll leave you two to it. Feel free – don’t think I’m being charged for excessive bandwidth.

            

  5. Ron

    Thanks Arty,

    To show my gratitude I accidentally posted a two letter reply. I was just testing something because I had problems with the site yesterday, but I see you can delete it. Sorry about that.

    Paul, you’re absolutely right about his voice, but to go along with it, he was a great rhythm guitar player. I thought that his playing would help set them apart from some of the other bands, but then again, I am only vaguely familiar with the other bands to which The Sound are often compared.

      

  6. Ron

    Arty,

    Are you going to review All Fall Down? It would be interesting to read your views on that album. I know some see it as a weaker moment for The Sound, but it’s a very good, if not great,album, in my opinion. The songs weren’t as inaccessible as some try to make them out to be, and I feel like later bands found fame with a similar sound.

      

    • I hadn’t planned to but I’ll give it another listen when I get back from Beirut. The later LP / EP which I think as good as their earlier work is Shock of Daylight. Six magnificent songs with a great uncluttered production.

        

  7. Ron

    Shock of Daylight is probably one of the greatest EPs of all time; Adrian and the band’s pop sensibility really shines through on the album.

      

    • You will get no arguments from me over that. Criminally underrated.

        

  8. Ron

    Not sure if you ever heard the Second Layer stuff, but I listened to the World of Rubber album yesterday, and it’s a pretty good album. While it’s no lost classic, the album shows how experimental and ahead of the times Adrian could be at times, though the production suffers a bit from what I’m guessing was a small budget.

      

    • I have The Outsiders stuff but never knew of Second Layer till you mentioned it. I shall investigate.

        

  9. Ron

    Currently, it’s all on youtube. There’s the World of Rubber album and some separate stuff from a couple of EPs.

      

    • Thanks. I shall give it a listen.

        

  10. Ron

    I have to say, I think From the Lion’s Mouth is the pinnacle for The Sound. Recently, I’ve been listening to it as a whole album more, and the album never really drops the ball. As someone who has been greatly inspired by the album, I think I’m still wrapping my mind around how personal and genuinely introspective most of the lyrics are.

      

    • I too think From The Lion’s Mouth is their best. It probably has his strongest set of songs and the production allows the songs to breathe. On later Sound records I found the production was too cluttered and made the songs sound claustrophobic but this album is the band at their peak.

        

  11. Ron

    I’m not sure if you’ve had a chance to listen to All Fall Down again, but after revisiting it myself, I think the first seven songs show promise of a great album getting ready to be delivered, with the band making progress in their sound. From Red Paint and on it sort of goes downhill for me.

    Still, Where the Love Is and In Suspense, are two of my favorites by the band. I don’t know what some fans and critics were griping about back in the day since the hooks are still there; they were actually probably more prominent than on the previous two LPs. The technology may not have been, but I think The Sound was a bit ahead with some stuff on that album.

      

    • I have just listened to it again. The songs are good, for the most part, but I find it incredibly claustrophobic. The band appear to be holding in, reigning in what made them great and tellingly there is not a single blistering guitar solo that we know Adrian is capable of. It’s clearly a deliberate ploy but I need those explosions. It’s the tension between the repression and the explosion that makes The Sound great for me and on this album there is just repression with none of the exultant release.

        

  12. Ron

    I’ve never really noticed the lack of Borland’s guitar solos on the album. I may have to go back and check, but I believe the guitar solos became more subtle after From the Lion’s Mouth, though Borland continued putting out great riffs.

    I wonder if All Fall Down should be seen as a transition album for the band.

      

  13. Ron

    I’ve been trying to revisit Borland’s solo material more recently. I really hate being that guy who can’t get past an artist’s more noticeable past; besides there is some really good and interesting things happening on the solo albums that I have, especially on 5:00 AM.

    I still think Adrian was often a few steps ahead of the times. The guy should regularly be heralded as a genius.

      

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