'Can you hear the sound?” Adrian Borland intones urgently on ‘Physical World’, the title song from The Sound’s very first record, a 7” EP that has been out of print for 40 years and now fetches hundreds of dollars on the collectors’ market. Lovingly reissued by Reminder Records, ‘Physical World’ captures Adrian Borland and his newly named group at a transitional point musically. Whereas Adrian’s previous group The Outsiders were informed by The Stooges (James Williamson’s guitar playing especially) and the Sex Pistols, The Sound were heavily influenced by Joy Division, a band Adrian had seen live numerous times and been captivated by. The Sex Pistols’ anger was aimed outwards; Joy Division’s was introverted and turned in on itself. On the enemy within.
For Adrian, The Sound was the sound of wiping the slate clean. A post-punk Year Zero. Gone was any punk sloppiness, replaced by a taut, spiky leanness. Recorded in 1979, between the home demos of ‘Propaganda’ and the first Sound album, ‘Jeopardy’, the ‘Physical World’ EP has a stabbing urgency. ‘Cold Beat’, a not so distant relation of Joy Division’s ‘Ice Age’, could almost be a calling card for the new post-punk movement (although of course it didn’t have this name bestowed upon it till years later), while ‘Physical World’ is all adolescent rush and ‘Unwritten Law’ exhibits a knowing weariness. Maybe even a prescient awareness of what was to follow?
The Sound had mutated out of The Outsiders – and outsiders they truly were. Hailing from leafy London suburb Wimbledon, they might as well have been from Mars. Not wishing to conform to the identikit punk look that had spread like a virus from the capital, The Outsiders weren’t afraid to show their roots (or even the long hair attached to them). Adrian can even be seen on film, dancing like a loon and laughing joyously, his flowing locks making him stand out conspicuously among all the spiky-topped punks at the Sex Pistols show at the Notre Dame Hall off Leicester Square, which was broadcast on The London Weekend Show in November 1976.
Worshipping at the altar of The Stooges, The Outsiders must have been gobsmacked when, playing at punk dive The Roxy, Iggy Pop joined them on stage for a version of Raw Power. Afterwards he told the group that they were “in the groove”.
Sadly, the British music press didn’t share Iggy’s enthusiasm. In the NME, Julie Burchill described The Outsiders as “mediocrity personified” and “‘bozos”, adding that she was so “BORED with these well-bred little students toying with our music like it’s the latest coffee-table conversation piece” and was “so sick of rich bitches hooking their claws into our cause”. Her partner, fellow NME gunslinger Tony Parsons, had this to say about them in a singles review he wrote soon after. “Tuneless, gormless, gutless… The Outsiders are obese midgets who wear bicycle clips on their flairs [sic] because they think it looks punky.” No wonder Adrian wanted to wipe the slate clean.
Listen to The Sound, listen to the Cold Beat. This is the true sound of the suburbs.'
Our take: Reminder Records is a new reissue label from Jeremy Thompson, formerly of the great Sing Sing Records, and they’re starting strong with this much-needed reissue of the first single by the Sound, which has never been reissued. I was excited to get this because I’m a massive fan of the Sound. Their first two LPs, Jeopardy, and From the Lion’s Mouth, are unheralded post-punk classics, both of them overflowing with classic tracks. (Their LPs after that are decent too.) Jeopardy is a particular favorite, and if you’re a fan of how the Chameleons combine punky energy and post-punk brooding with big pop hooks, you’ll agree. As for this single, it’s not as great as the albums, but it’s worth hearing if you’re a fan. The first two tracks are upbeat punk with a mechanized groove that hints at where the band was going. Adrian Borland was a huge Joy Division fan, and it’s not unlike the early Warsaw-era tracks that found that band using punk rock as a jumping-off point. The closer is an early version of “Unwritten Law” (which would appear in a different version on Jeopardy), and I’d say it’s one of those Wizard of Oz moments of stepping from black and white into technicolor, but it’s more like stepping from punk’s flat plastic day-glo into the grey and grittily textured world of post-punk. Whereas the first two tracks are all bluster, “Unwritten Law” breathes, showing off the memorable bass work that gives Jeopardy so much of its power. While Jeopardy is hardly a high production value affair, these tracks are even grittier and grainer. It’s hard for me to say how this single would land with someone who isn’t familiar with the albums, but as a fan of the Sound, I’m stoked to have this.