From the Lion's Mouth (1981) ****
Much smoother and more polished than the band-produced debut (which is not a good thing, IMAO), again this goes down so easily that upon initial listen it's a sure-fire 5 star classic; but as more often that not with music that is immediately likeable, it grows slightly thinner with each subsequent listen. The opening track, "Winning," signifies the distance from the debut: the synths are considerably more prominent, as its creamy goosequill melody slowly builds atmospherically - as with most of the tracks, the Sound take their stately, measured time to get to the point (i.e., chorus hook), with Adrian Borland's vocals only entering after a minute's time. The band are considerably more concerned with building atmosphere on this track and every other track on the album than they were on Jeopardy's tunes; subsequently, as a more cohesive mood piece in terms of vision and sound, there's a big dropoff in terms of variety. Not that the songs aren't still self-consciously hooky and decidedly in the pop/rock tradition; if anything, their second album is more melodic than the first, but definitely less energetic - the loudest and most agressive track, "The Fire," is also the weakest, with its overblown flailings almost makes it a (gasp!) bad track. Oh, but it's not, you see; the bassline that drives "The Fire," easily redeems the song; it just leaps out as out of character from the rest of the album and the weaker for it.
But back to the opening track, "Winning." It's the most commercial track, if not quite the strongest, and it seems inexplicable why it wasn't a massive hit: the lyrics may seem a little cheesy as Borland encourages self-reliance in the face of overwhelming odds, but hey, put this in context. The Sound were surrounded by a sea of mopey goths like the Bauhaus and the Cure wallowing in self-pity; in that context, a lyrically upbeat track like "Winning," is nothing less than a bracing splash of cold water in the face. The instant stunner, "Contact the Fact," pulls a similarly effective trick by contrasting a broodingly driving verse with a strikingly poppy, anthemic chorus; if you want this album encapsulated in one sweet track, this one's it. The meanderingly measured "Sense of Purpose," the drivingly pop-punky "Skeletons," and the quasi-religious musings of "Judgement," are as well stand-out tracks, but it's at the very end that the album once again scales the heights of "Winning," and "Contact the Fact." "Silent Air," follows in style and mood as a sort of sequel to the debut's "Unwritten Law,"; the closest the Sound have come to a conventional ballad, and it's pure lovely in its sturdy but haunted way. "New Dark Age," by far the closest the Sound have come so far to conventional goth, sounds like the type of thing that XTC were aiming for (and fell flat on their faces at) in "Travels in Nihilon,": with its kettle drums booming and Borland declaiming vaguely apocalyptic lyrics, it ends the album on a broodingly intense high note. Or does it? For after a brief interval, hidden within "New Dark Age," is the concurrent single, "Hot House," a lightweight New Wave pop tune that's totally out of character with the rest of the LP, and actually shouldn't be here at all - Borland expressly wished that "Hot House," not be added as a bonus track, so tucking it away hidden at the end of "New Dark Age," was a bizarrely sneaky move on the record company's part.