In 1981 The Sound released their second album. From The Lions Mouth was a masterpiece, that would surely lead to their major breakthrough. It all turned out quite differently. A story about great expectations, dreams, disappointments and astonishing music.
In 1979 the London punk band The Outsiders disbanded. Singer/guitarist Adrian Borland and bass player Graham Dudley continued with drummer Mike Dudley and woodwinds player Bi Marshall (real name Benita Biltoo) using the moniker The Sound. The music style changed to post-punk and new wave. That very same year the band debuted with the EP Physical World, leading to positive reactions in the press and attention from the influential BBC DJ John Peel.
Record companies took notice immediately. The band signed to the Korova label, which also provided a home for Echo & The Bunnymen. In November 1980 The Sound’s debut album was released: Jeopardy. The press went berserk and praised the band and the album enthusiastically. Even though the album contained two Sound classics with Heartland and Missiles, the album was a commercial failure.
Following the release of Jeopardy Bi Marshall left the band and was replaced by Colvin ‘Max’ Mayers. Because the band was relatively popular in The Netherlands, the live EP Live Instinct was released in that country.
For their next album the band would work with producer Hugh Jones, who had already built quite a name for himself as engineer for bands like Simple Minds, The Teardrop Explodes and Echo & The Bunnymen.
From The Lions Mouth
After production was finished at the Rockfield Studios in Wales, the second album by The Sound was released on November 1st, 1981, on Korova. Jeopardy‘s punky ‘in your face’ energy had been replaced by a more mature sound and an immaculate production, with the energy still being very tangible. The album sounds just as fresh today as it did back in 1981.
As was the case with Jeopardy, From The Lions Mouth was lauded by the press, but the album didn’t fare well commercially. High hopes and expectations were not met. At the time the album sold a meager 100,000 copies. The band was completely ignored in their home country England (once again). The popularity in The Netherlands was growing and Germany was a growing market as well.
The album cover was a depiction of the 1872 Briton Rivière painting Daniel in the Lion’s Den.
The album starts with the stunning Winning, a highlight in early 1980’s music. A great propelling song with equally great lyrics:
What holds your hope together
Make sure it’s strong enough
When you reach the end of your tether
It’s because it wasn’t strong enough
I was going to drown
Then I started swimming
I was going down
Then I started winning
The beautiful Sense Of Purpose (“A call to the heart / A call to have a heart”) is followed by a declaration of love containing little hope for romance, Contact The Fact (“Everything I touch / Turns to dust / And everyone I turn to / Turns on me”). Skeletons and Judgment finish the first side of the album perfectly.
The B side opens with Fatal Flaw. The lyrics hit home immediately: “We all have weakness / Moments that we can’t contain / Right now I’m all weakness / I’ll make another retreat again”. The next song Possession is even more poignant: “There’s a devil in me / Trying to show his face / There’s a god in me / Wants to put me in my place”. The glorious rocking (listen to that bass!) The Fire show the band is really in-tune with one another. The two closers Silent Air and New Dark Age complete the album.
The English media is well known for hyping things up, but the comment made in 1981’s Melody Maker resembles the truth rather well: “Lions Mouth could be the end of the line for me and ‘rock’ records – it’s that good”. The music fits the era and can measure itself up to contemporaries, like Joy Division, The Cure, Echo & The Bunnymen. But The Sound does add its own distinct image and color. Front man, major writer and singer Adrian Borland is driven, convincing and intense and is largely responsible for a unique sound.
Even though the love for Jeopardy is huge among The Sound fans, I really love From The Lions Mouth more as it’s a better and more complete album. It’s not just the higher quality of the songs themselves, but the overall atmosphere and production speak more to me. Where Jeopardy is more of an external political statement, From The Lions Mouth shows Adrian Borland looking inside more, resulting in more emotional and penetrating music and lyrics.
The lyrics are quite heavy, in tune with the era, where (youth) unemployment, economic recession and the impending threat of nuclear war determined the world of the youth. But still, a song like Winning does come across uplifting and even optimistic. That duality makes From The Lions Mouth the masterpiece that it is. It’s incomprehensible to me just how few people know about this album. Find it and enjoy the fantastic, warm and energetic From The Lions Mouth.
Around 1985 Adrian Borland was officially diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. It was an explanation for the dark lyrics and bedevilment he showed during live shows. Even though it’s tempting to go in search of signs on From The Lions Mouth, that confirm the disorder, I have chosen not to do so. That is up to the listener.
Just one single was culled from the album on September 20th, 1981, Sense Of Purpose. I can’t understand that no-one even suggested to release Winning as a single.
All lyrics by Adrian Borland, music by The Sound, unless stated otherwise.
- Sense Of Purpose
- Contact The Fact #
- Skeletons ^
- Judgement #
- Fatal Flaw
- Possession *, $
- The Fire ^
- Silent Air *
- New Dark Age *
# Music by Adrian Borland, Max Mayers, Graham Green
^ Music by Adrian Borland, Benita Biltoo, Graham Green, Michael Dudley
* Music by Adrian Borland
$ Lyrics by Adrian Borland, Adrian Janes
In 2002 the album was remastered and released by Renascent, a label especially founded with the aim of re-releasing all The Sound albums. The great single Hothouse was added to the last song New Dark Age, against Adrian Borland’s wish that re-releases of this album were to be unaltered, as the original album was perfect as it was.
- Adrian Borland – vocals, guitar
- Michael Dudley – drums, percussion
- Graham Green – bass
- Max Mayers – keyboards
After From The Lions Mouth
In 1982 the band released the superb single Hothouse, but the disappointment about the slim sales of From The Lions Mouth resulted in the band moving from Korova to major label WEA. The band was encouraged to come up with a more commercial third album. The band returned with ‘fuck you’ statement All Fall Down. The album was panned by critics and WEA refused to promote it. Subsequently, the band was dropped by the label. Was All Fall Down such a bad album? No, far from it, once again the band had delivered a great album, that was once again ignored by the record buying public.
In 1984 the band signed with the Statik label and released the EP Shock Of Daylight, which was followed by Heads And Hearts a year later. Unfortunately, Borland’s illness was becoming more apparent every day. The frustration with never really getting the Sound’s career of the ground, undoubtedly contributed to Borland’s state of mind.
But, the band were unlucky as well. Shortly after the release of 1985 the live album In The Hothouse the Statik label was bankrupt. In 1987 the album Thunder Up was released. The tour that followed showed Borland’s illness was becoming a major problem. Several shows were cancelled and after leaving a show in The Netherlands midway, it was all over. In 1988 The Sound was disbanded.
Borland continued a career in music. His solo career lasted almost 10 years, during which he worked from his new home The Netherlands for quite some time. On April 26th, 1999, Borland ended his own life. He was just 41 years old.
That very same year the album Propaganda was released, containing The Sound recordings from 1979. In 2004 The BBC Recordings was released, which contained two radio sessions and two live shows.
The special connection of the band with The Netherlands was underlined in 2006 with the release of The Dutch Radio Recordings, a collection of 5 cd’s with recordings from Paradiso, Amsterdam (03/08/1981), No Nukes Festival, Utrecht (04/09/1982), Stokvishal, Arnhem (01/24/1983), Parkpop Festival, Den Haag (07/01/1984) and Vrije Vloer, Utrecht (04/09/1985).
So what was it that the band never achieved its deserved success? Were the latter albums really so much worse? Was Adrian Borland less charismatic and/or beautiful than his contemporaries? Or were Borland’s psychological problems to blame? The answer will probably never be given, so the mystery remains.
What’s your take on From The Lions Mouth and The Sound? Let me know, it’s highly appreciated!
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: The Sound and the superior From The Lions Mouth. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.
The Sound 1981 image: arcane-delights.com
The Sound – Physical World (EP), All Fall Down, Thunder Up images: musicmeter.nl
The Sound – Jeopardy, From The Lions Mouth, From The Lions Mouth – Band photo, Shock Of Daylight (EP), Heads And Hearts, In The Hothouse images: spotify.com
The Sound – Live Instinct (EP), Sense Of Purpose (single), Hothouse (single), Propaganda, The Dutch Radio Recordings images: discogs.com
The Sound – From The Lions Mouth – Promo image: instagram.com
The Sound – The BBC Recordings image: amazon.com