Bill Nelson's Red Noise - Sound-On-Sound (Deluxe Edition, Esoteric Recordings)

Bill Nelson’s Red Noise – Sound-On-Sound (Deluxe Edition, Esoteric Recordings)

Every now and again, you become aware of an older band, and when you listen to them, think “How the FUCK did they fail to make it as a chart band?” – Bill Nelson’s Red Noise fall very much into this category. On the face of it, they had everything needed in order to be a success: Nelson himself had, indeed, already tasted widespread acclaim with the also excellent Be-Bop Deluxe (the single ‘Ships In The Night‘ even threatening to dent the UK top 20 at one point), they had a knack for writing catchy New Wave type songs that were a sort of hybrid of Talking Heads, Gary Numan and Roxy Music, and they had at their disposal a tremendous set of musicians in order to pull it off. Hell, they even had folk royalty Dave Mattacks, of Fairport Convention fame, at their disposal to perform some of the album’s more intricate drum parts, and the legendary John Leckie as producer. How could they fail? How DID they fail?

Listening with fresh ears, ‘Furniture Music‘ in particular must be up there with the greatest singles never to trouble the Top 40. Indeed, The Skids would go on to have a sizeable hit with ‘Working For The Yankee Dollar‘ the following year, whose opening gambit is not dissimilar to the start of ‘Furniture Music‘, and the vibrancy of ‘Revolt Into Style‘ made that an even better 45. Again, not a hit. Perhaps it was the complete change of direction, the band aligning them more with that punk and new wave sound that alienated part of Nelson’s previous audience, who were used to the early glam rock and elements of prog, though it has to be said that the clues were there even then, especially on the last Be-Bop Deluxe album Drastic Plastic.

Whatever the reason, it is well worth revisiting Sound-On-Sound or quite possible, hearing it for the first time. It’s not like this band attained a great deal of airplay, which is a shame, because I feel like they could have been huge, given the push they should have been given. THAT opener, ‘Don’t Touch Me (I’m Electric)‘, fierce and urgent, I suspect it frightened a few folk off, but it’s followed by a plethora of ‘punch the air’ feelgood anthems, sprinkled delightfully with lyrics that leaned heavily on dystopian science fiction. The frantic feel that the likes of ‘For Young Moderns‘ and ‘Stop/Go/Stop‘ convey is truly something to behold. I would have given my right arm to see this band live (theoretically speaking, obviously. I wouldn’t really do that).

Some of the bonus tracks here are rather special too. ‘Wonder Toys That Last Forever‘ and ‘Acquitted By Mirrors‘, which were both on the flipside of the Furniture Music EP truly showcase how versatile this band was, the former track erring closer to the likes of Magazine and Television, and the latter almost a reggae tune. They’re both completely irresistible. As is the rest of Sound-On-Sound if we’re being completely honest.

But perhaps they were just victims of a particularly abundant time in musical history, with literally hundreds of classic, hugely creative albums being released in 1978 and 1979, the exact timeframe of when Bill Nelson’s Red Noise existed. Had the likes of ‘Stay Young‘ been released at practically any other time, it would surely have been a guaranteed top ten smash. Although weirdly that one was never actually put out in the 7″ format. A chance missed, maybe?

This deluxe edition of Sound-On-Sound – the band’s only full-length album, tragically – contains two discs (there is also a four-disc edition available if you’re feeling flush!). The first one is the remastered version – ‘A Better Home In The Phantom Zone‘ and ‘Out Of Touch‘ benefit greatly from this – with the two aforementioned B-sides at the end, and disc two is the same album in a new stereo mix. Perhaps one of the best things about disc two though is the inclusion of the fabulous, previously unreleased ‘My Light‘, a great tune but one that was presumably left out of the final listing because its slower pace may have spoiled the flow of the long player’s full-on aural assault.

All that, and I haven’t even mentioned my favourite track on here – the utterly majestic ‘Art/Empire/Industry‘ with its killer chorus and mood of exhilaration.

Sound-On-Sound is truly a magnificent album and if you didn’t already own it, now is the time to rectify that.


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.