Please play very loud, very late, very alone, and with the lights turned very low.
Written: Oct 7, 2002 (Updated Oct 7, 2002)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Musically intriguing. Highly emotive lyrics. A high point for the band.
Cons:Short. The sticker.
The Bottom Line: Rich music, deliciously impassioned lyrics. Better than Viagra!
My brother thinks Matt Johnson takes himself too seriously. And since I slept in the bunk above him, and every night he put in a cassette tape when we went to sleep, his preferences determined mine all the while I grew up until he moved away. So its no surprise I didnt discover The The for myself until he was gone.
And he may have a point. I, too, like music that doesnt take itself too seriously. I love playful bands like The Toy Dolls, Sparks, Elvis Costello and Cake. Even U2 can laugh at itself sometimes. But I also like Depeche Mode, and nobody takes themselves more seriously than The Smiths, who I adore. Then theres bands like Talking Heads. Do they take themselves seriously or not? Hard to tell sometimes.
Does Matt Johnson take himself too seriously? He does lay it on heavy with some The The tracks. And he pushes passion to the verge of corniness at times. But then again, he did produce an album of Hank Williams covers. And just look at the sleeve to Disinfected. Still, The The isnt known for wittiness or wry humor. Theyre known for Matt Johnsons lusty, purring vocals. Theyre known for being politically critical, for inspiring short-term depression, and especially for making their listeners horny--touching the powerful empathy with which all would-be lovers throb.
1989s MIND BOMB marks the summit of The Thes evolution. Johnson held steady at that height for Dusk but theres been a falling off since. While the preceeding album, Infected, finally showed the fully mature and powerful The The that Soul Mining lacked, Infected itself lacked something: Lust. Mind Bomb received a full injection. And while it harbors a bit more politics, religion and romance than the steaming Dusk, its sexually-oriented tracks are the more potent for it.
Matt Johnson supplies the vocals, guitar, and piano. He also provides the writing. All others come and go. Johnsons lyrics are a great strength in The The, and Johnsons most successful tracks revolve around his spoken thoughts, or urges.
However, Mind Bomb does mark the debut of Johnny Marr (of The Smiths fame) as a part-time The The member. A giant in his own right, Marrs influence and expertness with the guitar and harmonica can be felt on multiple tracks. Also, Sinead OConnor provides vocals on the duet, Kingdom of Rain.
James Eller on bass and guitar, and David Palmer on drums round out the core group. But Matt Johnson does some interesting things, and on each song theyre joined by various other artists who contribute keyboards, harmonicas, saxophones, banjos, Arabian fiddles, organs, bongos, clarinets, and even strings and choirs.
Sadly, The The is usually pretty skimpy on their albums, and Mind Bombs mere eight are not out of the ordinary.
Good Morning Beautiful is a long, slowly-building start to the album with steady, but sometimes blaring saxophones. It prepares the listener for the religious themes of the following two tracks with Johnsons deep vocals booming like the very voice of God himself: WHO IS IT? That can reach down from above and set your soul ablaze with love, or fill you with the insanity of violence and its brother lust! Watch out for the f-bomb carelessly dropped near the end.
Armageddon Days Are Here is a personal favorite of mine, and strangely appropriate for our own day. The chorus Islam is rising, The Christians mobilizing, The world is on its elbows and knees, Its forgotten he message and worships the creeds frames a narrative of war criticized by the idea that the real Jesus Christ would be rejected today, but that God himself would reject the things that have been done in his name. Irreverent? Yes. A healthy pill to swallow? Yes. The chorus of prophets is humorous, and the hammering vocals are offset by the playful guitar and the Arabian instrumentations, creating a very memorable and fun song with a serious message. Watch out for Palmers drumming here. You might just find yourself unable to stop from getting up and dancing like some kid out of Sixteen Candles.
The Violence of Truth returns to religious questions: What is evil? What is love? What is the force that possesses us? Where is the beauty? Where is the truth? Where is the force that watches over you? Johnsons complicated answer is God. His distrust of religion is obvious, but also extends to any who push a truth religiously. And although Johnson uses the N word, I feel he very appropriately is illustrating the negligence of the western world. Throughout the song a hammond organ dances, hitting notes everywhere. The harmonica counters with jarring dissonance.
In Kingdom of Rain Johnson slows down and turns romantic. This isnt the hot and heavy Johnson of later songs, but Johnson nonetheless as his portrayal of a failed long-term relationship necessarily involves a physical manifestation: Our bed is empty, The fire is out, And all the love weve got to give has all spurted out. Somehow, the message is still poignant: Youve moved further from my side, year by year, While still making love dutifully sincere. But as silent as the car lights that move across this room. As cold as our bodies silhouetted by the moon. This is a gently melodic song, and the spotlight is given to Sinead OConnor who trades verses with Johnson, and climaxes with a classic Sinead screech I just wanted somebody to posse-e-ess this young gir-rl.
The Beat(en) Generation perhaps most clearly shows Johnny Marrs influence. Its jaunty riffs and pleasant harmonica team with a strangely cheery Johnson to create an almost Smiths-like song that delivers a social critique. Wont the words sit ill upon their tongues, when they tell us justice is being done, and that freedom lives in the barrels of a warm gun! This songs stylings dont sit well with many The The fans, but I love songs with a sound somewhat inappropriate to their substance.
August and September is another nostalgic love song. This time Johnson goes it alone and reminisces about a love who has left him, his pain at the loss and his attempts to return her. Theres again a bit of humor here, Johnson has it for those who care to look: I went down on one knee. With a glint in my eyes and a rose between my teeth. And I pushed out my tongue, for you to see, That Id been dying of a thirst for your company. Of course, love isnt just romance and humor for Johnson. Lust is the key word for this man and its not lacking here. our clothes fell away, as we rolled back the years. He ends with a self-recriminating interrogation What kind of man was I? Who could delay your destiny to appease his aching, swollen pride. Rather than answer the question, he forcefully asserts Youre mine! A bouncy guitar, clarinets and an oboe join a lilting piano to underline the fact that the narrator knows hes a scoundrel, but harbors little guilt. Was our love too strong to die, Or were we just too weak to kill it?
Gravitate to Me is a precursor to songs like Dusks Dogs of Lust. Its the heavily breathed yearning of a man whos kept himself lonely because hes been darkly eyeballing a specific someone. I am the lighthouse. I am the sea. I am the air that you breathe. Gravitate to me. The harmonica opens with what will become a haunting, persistent refrain, punctuated by an electric guitar. The bass becomes prominent here, and seems to reel the singers target in like a will-o-the-wisp. This is a slow anthem for anyone whos watched someone from afar.
Beyond Love ends the album masterfully, by fulfilling the building passion and then pointing further. Its as if Heaven above is beckoning us. So let us take off our crosses and lay them in a tin, and let our weakness become virtue, instead of sin. The basic idea is that sex is a taste of heaven. Not exactly revolutionary, but its done very well. The mention of certain body parts and fluids probably contributed to the parental advisory sticker on this album, which I endorse for the extreme maturity of themes. The music here is simple and gradual. It punctuates Johnsons deliveries and accents the mood with horns and silences. In this track, the imperative of lust is gentle, but irresistible and urgent. This song is the sweet consummation of the album, after which I almost feel the need to smoke. But it doesnt end too neatly. Johnson brings in his deeper issues with subtlety, suggesting his companion take him beyond lust and pain, beyond even all the trite things we think of as love.
REACTIONS and RECOMMENDATION
If Ive reproduced too many lyrics, you must forgive me. I realize all teenagers are maladjusted sexually, but my personal maladjustment was given form by the eremitic depression of The Smiths, and later by the painfully lustful purrings of The The and the explosively lustful Red Hot Chili Peppers. (If youre wondering, Id cite Dead Can Dances eclecticism and other-worldliness now. But Ive already said more than you ever wanted to know.) So its no wonder Johnsons lyrics will always be an intimate treasure for me, and The The is still one of my favorite bands to sing along with.
But musically The The can be very interesting. Most successfully so in this album and Dusk. Even more so than in the later Dusk, there are experiments going on here. And the variations of theme--combining religion, politics, and romance with lust--mark this as a turning point where Johnson begins looking inward in a different way, a way which Dusk would perhaps exhaust, forcing Johnson to recuperate with the aforementioned Hanky Panky.
If you like introspective music that doesnt hesitate to tell you exactly what the songwriter is feeling, youll like The The. And I dont mean introspective like the aggressive lashing out that is so common in music today. I dont care to hear about how angry anyone is or how theyve been wronged. Instead Johnson weaves stories about wronging others, and what propels him to do so. Its something we can all identify with. Johnson doesnt glorify himself when hes wrong, but hes entirely honest. And he demands the same of politics, religion, and love. And of his audience. If you cant provide that honesty, this music will not touch you.
PS: Do not miss this band live!