Bill Nelson’s Red Noise – Sound On Sound: Album Review

Bill Nelson and Red Noise. One small step for man, that shone brightly albeit briefly.

Release Date: 26th August 2022

Label: Cherry Red Records / Esoteric Recordings

Format: 2CD / 4CD & 2 DVD (Art / Empire / Industry)

Cherry Red/Esoteric have done an exceptional job in rebooting the Be Bop Deluxe catalogue. Apt that they should run with the story that follows the release of the album Drastic Plastic and tour, as Bill Nelson disbanded Be Bop Deluxe. Their 1974-1978 output acted as a launch pad for what would become an increasingly broad solo career for Nelson. Aware of the emergence of the New Wave artists and out of a desire to continually evolve, he announced the formation of Red Noise. Another project, this one even more short-lived, another sign that Bill Nelson wasn’t the type of man to hang around in one place or space for very long. “A new start and a new direction,” was the call.

I have some Red Noise history. OK, so I’m a sucker for coloured vinyl, hence the red and blue pressing (pic sleeves naturally) of Furniture Music and Revolt Into Style (the latter with Fairport’s Dave Mattacks on drums – I never knew that!) have sat in my collection for over forty years. The logo is brilliant too plus the cover art with one of those figures made from nuts and bolts which are quite common in the fancy goods shops these days. There’s more about that in Bill Nelson’s album notes. Not surprising then, that with some knowledge of Be Bop Deluxe – both the music and their sharp dress sense – I was going to be in the market for a bit of Bill Nelson’s Red Noise.

The Cherry Red work on the BBD reissues was exemplary and their dedication to Red Noise is similarly respectful and thorough. Steering safely through the waters where the Nelson name – what some would call the Trademark Of Quality (TMOQ) – was on the label yet still housed under the umbrella of a band. Naturally, the attention to detail is similarly reproduced. In becoming spoiled by the extensive liner notes from the pen of the man himself through all the Cherry Red BBD remasters, Nelson himself calls Sound On Sound an album that “hits the spot perfectly for the period that gave it birth.”

Working alongside famed producer John Leckie, Bill recorded a masterpiece that fit perfectly into the new world of the new wave; a record packed with punchy material whilst hanging by a thread with a connection to the past. Sound On Sound and the subsequent live shows might have split the opinion amongst fans , but with the passage of time and the benefit of hindsight, the album is now regarded as one of Bill Nelson’s finest works.

The 2CD version includes the album remastered along with a new stereo mix and four tracks from a Feb 1979 BBC session. There are tenous links to his not so recent past; concessions to where hed come from with BBD. Furniture Music, a wise choice as first single and not too stark a contrast with expectations, providing the gateway to the new direction; the previously unreleased My Light and the swirling Wonder Toys That Last Forever segue relatively smoothly into the new direction before some startling new works sting with reinvention.

Don’t Touch Me (I’m Electric) is a case of in at the deep end as any talk of fitting into the New Wave scene, ranking alongside the likes of Talking Heads and XTC is fulfilled. The first of a series of era defining jerky and angular pieces with a clipped vocal delivery that frequently slips into the manic. The songs also owe a nod to the Ska crew who were set to make such an impact as chart botherers of the period. There’s more than a hint of the Madness circus and the music of The Beat, The Selecter and The Specials, although Nelson seemed to draw the line at donning the pork pie hat. There might also be some honking car horns borrowed from “I go driving in my car” buried in Radar In My Heart. The calypso coolness of Acquitted By Mirrors and the elements of the artists who were slowly adding the electronic advances to their sounds (check the Numan-esque swathes on Disposable) adds strength to the case for Nelson as a musical pioneer. Sound On Sound is very much on trend, providing a rush and with the hurry scurry of the delivery rarely letting up.

For the indulgent, the extra CDs and DVDs include a recording of a Red Noise show from Leicester De Montfort Hall in ’79 and a disc of 1978 demos. The 2 DVDs include 5.1 remixes and some videos including the OGWT set that’s been up on Youtube a while. The live set from Leicester, in particular, illustrates the “even more whizzy and speedy approach. I’m amazed today, when listening to the live recordings, at just how fast and tight the band was,” says Nelson in his essay as hetalks of the “kinetic energy” of the band. The live show adds a couple of BBD choice cuts – Possession and Superenigmatix (from Drastic Plastic) provide a familiar highpoint mid-set rather than the usual lull.

The booklet also reminds us that as sartorially splendid as Be Bop Deluxe were, the fashion of the times sees the band decked out in sombre plain uniforms with a red circle the only concession to some styling. A look that might not have been out of place behind the iron curtain and maybe some would read a Communist slant to the look that formed the Revolt Into Style single sleeve and the live shows. But then perhaps not…

What came next? Not Sound On Sound Part 2 for sure, as the boxes had been ticked and Nelson was moving with the times. Time to Quit Dreaming And Get On The Beam, more synth-based and dreaming in colour.

Here’s Red Noise on the OGWT:

Bill Nelson online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Youtube

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