Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Sound - Propaganda

Propaganda (1999) ***

Formed out of the ashes of the Outsiders, who released one of the first independently released punk albums in 1977, emerged the Sound, still a punky guitar band but edging toward artiness.  These late '70s demo-ish recordings, apparently recorded in Borland's parents' basement or garage or toilet, are remarkably tight and professional sounding given their origins, and the fact that the band were just forming as musicians learning how to play their instruments.  Anyway, perhaps the most amazing thing is how exactly this sounds like Warsaw.  Remember Warsaw?  Joy Division the punk band before they transmuted into Joy Division?  The ultra-stiff guitar and drum interplay, the menacingly plodding tempos, The Man Who Sold the World era Bowie influence (music closer to stiff plodding acid metal with a touch of punky kick), the dour grey overtones.  Borland also flouts a noticable Iggy fixation on the vocals, particularly the Stooges-ish "Physical World".  The band rock out heartily on quite a few tracks, and plod along on a few others, which is to say the material on this compilation is a bit hit and miss; and likewise, the band seem to be fumbling their way to their own unique sound without quite finding it - in other words, 'formative', is the key adjective (as if you'd expect it be any other way for a collection of early pre-major label demos).  So it's essentially an album for fans only, but for true fans, it's essential:  about half the songs here are more than worthy appendages to the Sound's studio catalogue.  And doesn't "Quarter Past Two," sound just like the Cure's "10:15 Saturday Night," in both lyrical theme and that opening guitar line - dry and chiming, could've leaped off Boys Don't Cry (as does "One More Escape," which adds some Roxy-esque clarinet)?  The title track also employs horns, but to an unpleasant '80 faux-funk effect.  Much better is the apocalyptic opener, the plodding thudder, "No Salvation," which direly bespeaks of the collapse of the Church and nuclear war.  There are several early run-throughs of songs that would later be retooled for their 1980 debut ("Night vs. Day," "Words Fail Me," and "Missiles") none of which are all that drastically different from the polished final versions, only rougher:  they had a pretty clear vision of what they wanted to achieve even at this stage. 

Caveat emptor:  this platter is not quite complete.  Of the band's 1979 debut Physical World EP, only the title track makes it way to this comp.  The non-synth version of "Unwritten Law," (bettered on the album debut) probably isn't an essential listen, but the lead-off cut of that three-song debut single is.  You've never heard "Cold Beat"?  It's likely their best early punk-era Sound track.  Why did they leave "Cold Beat" off this compilation?!  And yet they found room for that slice of phlegm, "Music Business"?!  Scratching my ears at this inexplicability.

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