Pros: Armageddon Days Are Here (again) and Kingdom Of The Rain
The third album* under the moniker ‘The The’ for Matt Johnson was his most successful reaching number four in the U.K. It begins with Good Morning Beautiful a song with a tortured feel to it as with many of Johnson’s lyrics. The first thing you hear is what sounds like radio static followed by a Mullah calling the faithful and then a small child is heard reciting a prayer in the background. There are some truly amazing sounds here including Mark Feltham’s ‘electric’ harmonica. The electric guitars are from Johnny Marr who was a member of the group at this stage, and the song also has some eerie saxes played by Chris White who toured with Dire Straits for many years and Phil Todd who was with British jazz/rock supremos Nucleus
Armageddon Days Are Here (again) is a great title for a song and this is a great song. It is an unusual musical line-up here with Johnson on electric guitars, supported by a string section, a banjo, acoustic bass and an Arabian fiddle. It won’t appeal to everyone, especially those with ...er fundamentalist religious views because it is delivers a big serve to the organised religions of the world. How can you argue with logic such as this which is delivered so eloquently? “The world is on its elbows and knees; it’s forgotten the message and worships the creeds”
Mark Feltham who has previously cropped up on albums by people as diverse as Rory Gallagher, Talk Talk and Robbie Williams plays some beautifully toned harmonica at the opening of The Violence Of Truth. The song has a great beat driven by drummer David Palmer with some persistently funky electric bass from James Eller and grungy guitar by Johnny Marr.
The incredibly cool Kingdom Of Rain starts appropriately enough with a rainstorm. It is a tortured ‘love lost’ song with Matt Johnson singing the male part and Sinead O’Connor in the role of his angsty lover. I love the feel the bongos and congas give this song.
The Beat(en) Generation was released as a single to promote the album and it was one of Johnson’s most successful singles reaching number four in New Zealand and the lower reaches of the top twenty in the U.K. and the U.S.A. It is a catchy riff with more of that excellent harmonica work by Mark Feltham that cleverly drives home its overt political message. Quite apart from his musical talent, Matt has a knack of getting straight to the heart of matters and then putting across his ideas extremely well in song.
August & September is quite a departure from the more frenetic beats associated with most of Johnson’s songs. It begins in a similar jazz style to some of Joni Mitchell’s later work and includes a woodwind trio comprising oboe, clarinet and bass clarinet. Former Pentangle member Danny Thompson adds some beautiful tones from his upright bass and Johnny Marr uses his wah-wah pedal to good effect.
A melodica that sounds very like a harmonica and a mixture of guitars and synthesizer make up the larger part of Gravitate To Me. It is a slow menacing song that also features trombone and water percussion which could be any number of things, but it sounds very good. Pedro Haldemann is the master percussionist making these amazing sounds and his percussive efforts are well supported by Danny Cummings on more conventional percussive instruments and David Palmer on the full drumkit.
Beyond Love is a very atmospheric piece that begins with a muted flugelhorn and cool bass. Wix plays piano and Hammond organ while Matt Johnson lays down some distorted guitar and Johnny Marr plays the more conventional rock licks. Lyrically this one is pretty dark and conjures up visions of Hieronymus Bosch, but the music is the foil for this rather tortured imagery.
*This was actually Matt Johnson’s fourth album, but his first, Burning Blue Soul was originally released under his own name although it has since be re-issued and credited to The The.