Heads and Hearts (1985) ***1/2
On first listen it's clearly a step down from previous Sound albums, but damned if I know exactly why. The production's slightly glossier and the lyrics focus more on boy-pines-for-girl than usual, but cries of sell-out are misplaced: the tone is, for the most part, as gloomily dour as All Fall Down. The swirlingly downbeat opener, "Whirlpool," dispells those accusations forcefully, and the next two songs, the delusionally hopeful "Total Recall," and the Cars-gone-goth "Under You," both clear highlights, aren't any brighter. The claims that the Sound have grown more happily poppier seem to rest on a mere handful of these eleven tracks: "Love is Not a Ghost," a Psychedelic Furs-ish ballad that with its '80s saxes and banal love lyrics, actually is as conventional as they've gotten yet - still a fine song, though; the glass-is-half-full, "One Thousand Reasons," (to live); and possibly the closer, "Temperature Drop," which lyrically may stay positive, but the chilly frost pervading the atmosphere nullifies the words. If there is one adjective to describe this album, that's it - chilly. Frosty? Icy? Snowdusty? A more important question is, are there any truly bad songs on this album? The answer is predictably "No," as the Sound's greatest strength has always been their immediate accessibility and smooth hooky listenability. The songs are, however, somewhat less immediately hooky than usual, and the album is frontloaded with the strongest material, though "Restless Time," stands as the most energetic slab of much-needed vital rock energy on this downcast and emotionally desolated album. Perhaps that's it: it's not so much the band performances and songwriting, which are still up to par, as much as Borland's moody depression has finally sunk into listless weariness. He sounds tired, and drags the band down with him, despite the forced optimism of "Love is Not a Ghost," and a handful of other tracks. Nevertheless, a highly underrated album, and most certainly not any sort of jumping the shark moment for the band. It is a step down from previous albums, but hardly that drastic of a departure - there's no reason to not enjoy this one if you enjoyed the first four Sound releases, only slightly less so.