Tuesday, December 20, 2011

December 20: The Sound, "Heartland"

Artist: The Sound
Song: "Heartland"
Album: Jeopardy
Year: 1980

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Though one can easily cite a large number of “musical injustices” and absolutely inexplicable happenstances all across the long history of music, acknowledging that they exist rarely makes the situation any easier to accept.  In many of these situations, one can find an absent record label or an inexperienced or unprofessional producer that can be “blamed” for issues with an album or band not receiving the proper credit or exposure that they deserve; and yet it is when neither of these are the case that the problem in question becomes all the more frustrating.  Though this exact situation is exceptionally rare, it is no less a musical tragedy, and there is perhaps no better an example than when one looks at the brilliant post-punk band, The Sound.  It is when one hears the music of The Sound that the way in which the punk rock sound morphed into the darker “post punk” sound becomes clear, as it is this band that perfectly balanced both sounds within their music.  There is a sense of urgency and sonic beauty that runs through every song by The Sound, and once one hears this band, it is almost impossible understand how they did not become one of the biggest bands on the planet.  From the exceptional musicianship to the amazing moods to the soaring vocals, there has rarely been as superb a record as The Sound’s 1980 debut, Jeopardy, and there may be no song that better defines their unique brand of musical genius than the records’ second track, “Heartland.”

From the instant that “Heartland” begins, there is an energy and an urgency that is unlike anything else that was being recorded at the time.  It is the way that the keyboards from Bi Marshall have a quick sting to them, sending the song spinning wildly that pulls the listener completely into the song.  The vibrancy that comes through in his playing can be seen as a rather clear link to many U.K. punk bands like The Buzzcocks, and yet there is no question that his tone and approach are completely unique.  Yet it is largely due to the way that the bass of Graham Bailey sits underneath the keyboards that gives “Heartland” much of its personality, as its rather dark, almost brooding bounce that separates The Sound from nearly all of their peers.  The almost subtle aggression that he lends to the track works perfectly with the fervent, almost nervous pace of drummer Michael Dudley, and it is the interplay between these two that remains one of the finest aspects of the song.  However, throughout “Heartland,” there is little arguing that the main source of musical tension is coming from anything other than the fantastic guitar work of Adrian Borland.  There is an unsettling, somewhat nervous feel to his playing, and yet it is also the speed and tone he brings to the song that becomes so captivating.  It is also the way that the band is able to quickly shift into small bursts of tension-filled, yet quieter moments that show their exceptional talents, and “Heartland” is one of the few songs that once heard, cannot be forgotten.

Along with providing the spectacular guitar parts for the song, Adrian Borland also handles the vocals throughout “Heartland,” and one would be hard pressed to find a finer singer from this era of punk or post-punk music.  There is a unique allure to the high-energy, yet clearly pained sound of his voice, and he displays a far wider vocal range than nearly any other similar singer.  It is the strength and clarity within his singing that adds an ideal compliment to the overall musical landscape, and his performance here represents the pinnacle of making a vocal track fit seamlessly with the rest of the arrangement.  Throughout “Heartland,” the level of emotion that Borland provides is rarely anything short of tremendous, and it is the way that he injects so much expression and pain, whilst never coming off as inauthentic, that vaults him so far beyond any of his contemporaries.  However, it is also the beautifully poetic lyrics that Borland sings on “Heartland” that enable it to stand out from the rest of the songs on the album, and though simple and short, these are easily some of the finest lyrics of his generation.  The words themselves can be interpreted in a few different ways, and yet in each of these meanings, there is an ample amount of almost ethereal emotion, and the way that this manages to fit in with the more aggressive musical arrangement can rarely be found in any other era or musical genre.  It is also the fact that due to the energy within which Borland sings, one cannot help but sing along; and this in itself is the clearest proof of what a brilliant song lives within “Heartland.”

The fact of the matter remains, as absolutely phenomenal as every song found on Jeopardy is, The Sound stands as one of the most tragically unknown bands in the entire history of music.  While contemporaries like Joy Division and Echo & The Bunnymen continue to enjoy wide exposure to this day, the reality is that The Sound were the group that represented the transition from the more “standard” notion of punk rock to the “post punk” sounds upon which such bands made their careers.  That is not to say other groups were not deserving in their own right; but in many ways, The Sound should have been alongside them, if not slightly above these other bands.  Yet there is really nobody to “blame” for The Sound not catching on with an international audience, as the records were produced as they should have been, and promotion was what one could expect from their label at the time.  The fact of the matter is, The Sound represent the biggest mystery in music, as while they play absolutely brilliant music, they just “didn’t” explode across the planet as they should.  It is this rather harsh reality that is perhaps the most frustrating, and yet it in no way takes anything away from the astounding songs that the band recorded throughout their career.  From the soaring vocals and magnificent guitar work of Adrian Borland to the overall moods and sonic textures that are created by the band as a whole, there has simply never been another band quite like The Sound, and few songs from any era or genre can compare to their outstanding 1980 track, “Heartland.”

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