Most of us who are in our 40s and 50s who retain a love for quality music surely have a bit of a soft spot for Matt Johnson, aka The The.
It would be very tempting to concentrate today’s posting on the 1983 LP Soul Mining. It remains not just my favourite release by The The, mainly because it just perfectly captured my mood at the time of release, but it is also one of my favourite albums of all time. In some ways it is so good that it casts an almighty shadow over many other excellent work before and since.
It was a really frustrating time being a fan of the band at that time as there was a real unwillingness to tour and a desire by Matt Johnson to spend months and indeed years striving for perfection in the follow-up which eventually saw the light of day in 1986. By this time, I was into a new period in my life, post-university and not long into my first job in Edinburgh; Infected (together with The Queen Is Dead) is the LP that I most recall when I think back to those days.
I had become involved in a community drama group, initially as a way to meet folk and try to make new friends in a strange city. It was based in Stockbridge, which for those of you who don’t know Edinburgh, has long had a reputation for being a bit on the bohemian side. The flat I was living in at the time was just around the corner from the theatre, and it just seemed that every night, after rehearsals, a large group of us would end up back in the flat via a couple of hours in the pub, and we’d end up mostly listening to The The, The Smiths and New Order. Many was the morning that I didn’t make it into the office, and when I think back, I’m sometimes bemused that I didn’t lose my job over my behaviour….
Fast forward three years to 1989, and somehow I was still in my job, but had moved on to a more sensible way of living my life, when Mind Bomb hit the shops. The fact that Johnny Marr was now working and recording with Matt made this one of the most eagerly awaited LPs that I can recall. At the time, I was a quite disappointed with it, as it was just too downbeat to be enjoyable, and the tunes weren’t as easy on the ear as those on the previous two albums. But it is a record that I have grown to appreciate more and more with the passing of time, and I’m always happy when one of the tracks comes round via the shuffle on the i-pod.
Johnny Marr and Matt Johnson have each gone on record as saying that their time working, recording and touring together were among the happiest experiences in their musical careers, and proof can be found on the next album, Dusk, which contains some of the best songs Matt has ever penned, both musically and lyrically. Released in 1993, it criminally failed to spawn any huge hit singles, but was a LP that received all sorts of critical acclaim in the popular and specialist music press, and was the biggest-selling in the band’s career. And in Love Is Stronger Than Death, written by Matt as a way of helping himself to get over the tragic loss of his brother, you’ll find what I think is the most gut-wrenchingly beautiful song ever recorded.
I’ve always felt that The The could have really gone massive at this particular time, in the same as R.E.M. had done four or five albums into their career. But Matt chose an entirely different career path. The idea of a touring band was dismissed, and instead, the next project, in 1995, was Hanky Panky, an entire album of cover versions of songs by 50s country & western superstar, Hank Williams. It didn’t work. The record was very poorly received, and I honestly can’t find any way to defend it.
I really thought that was the last I’d ever hear from The The, but then in 2000, the LP Naked Self came out, almost under the radar. If this had been the debut album of some new band, it would have been praised beyond belief. Instead, there was a great deal of indifference, and sadly, a wonderful record was mostly ignored. It was, like all the previous original The The records, packed with thoughtful lyrics on difficult and often contentious issues. They were the thoughts of an angry man, a concerned man, a worried man and a pessimistic man. But it was far from a depressing and doom-laden bit of work.
That remains the last studio album to date but two new songs were added to a 2002 release of a Greatest Hits package. Since then, Matt Johnson has kept a reasonably low profile concentrating on soundtrack work. Earlier this year, a 30th Anniversary edition of Soul Mining was released and I intend to ask Santa Claus to bring me a copy later on this year….
I put Matt Johnson up there with Nick Cave, Billy Bragg and Steven Morrissey as the greatest lyricists of my generation. His collection of work over the past 30 plus years has been, for the most part, of the utmost quality. This imaginary LP wasn’t easy to put together:-
1. I’ve Been Waitin’ For Tomorrow (All Of My Life) (Special Mix)
2. Slow Emotion Replay
4. The Beat(en) Generation
5. Uncertain Smile
1. This Is The Day
2. Armageddon Days Are Here Again
3. Love Is Stronger Than Death
4. Dogs Of Lust
5. The Mercy Beat
Tracks A1, A5 and B1 are from the era of Soul Mining
Tracks A4 and A5 are from Infected
Tracks A3 and B2 are from Mind Bomb
Tracks A2, B3 and B4 are from Dusk
I feel bad about not including stuff from other albums but these are the ten that run best together.
mp3 : The The – I’ve Been Waitin’ For Tomorrow (All Of My Life) (Special Mix)
mp3 : The The – Slow Emotion Replay
mp3 : The The – Infected (12″ version)
mp3 : The The – The Beat(en) Generation
mp3 : The The – Uncertain Smile
mp3 : The The – This Is The Day (7″ version)
mp3 : The The – Armageddon Days Are Here Again
mp3 : The The – Love Is Stronger Than Death
mp3 : The The – Dogs Of Lust
mp3 : The The – The Mercy Beat
That closing track scared the life out of me upon its release – it was the soundtrack to an impending apocalyptic nightmare. I hadn’t played it in years until I dug out all the stuff to make up this posting. I always thought it the perfect ending to the LP Infected and while I can’t believe I didn’t have Perfect close this compilation , the memories invoked by The Mercy Beat, especially coming in late of an evening very drunk and playing it loudly so as to annoy my flatmates and neighbours, mean it has to go in.