Sunday, 22 December 2013
120 Infected -The The
Purchased : January 1989
Tracks : Infected / Out Of The Blue / Heartland / Angels of Deception / Sweet Bird Of Truth / Slow Train To Dawn / Twilight Of A Champion / The Mercy Beat
This one also came from Britannia probably in a 2 for 1 offer with the Nanci Griffith LP which must have struck someone there as an unusual combination.
I had been interested in The The since 1981 through their association with the Some Bizarre label but didn't actually hear anything until the "Uncertain Smile" single in late 82 which was played to death on David Jensen but didn't make the Top 40. On the strength of that and subsequent singles I bought the "Soul Mining" LP on cassette in 1984 but was rather disappointed and sold it to a guy at university ( a mod with catholic tastes called Ricky Back ) a year later when I was running out of money ; hence its non-appearance on this blog. However I liked all four singles released from this one and though the other tracks didn't have instant appeal when the whole LP was broadcast in video form on Channel 4 over Christmas 1986 ( I had to wrestle the TV away from a grumpy Helen to see it ) I still wanted the LP. This was another instance of catching up on those LPs released during my dole period.
The The has always been a pseudonym for Matt Johnson and whoever he's wanted to work with at the time. Although "Soul Mining" was largely a personal album this one is highly political , indeed probably the most politicised LP on a major label (Some Bizarre licenced it to Epic) of the decade. Johnson made a video for every track hence the Channel 4 special.
The title track was the third single from the LP in autumn 1986 and reached number 48, a creditable performance given a daytime radio ban for the inclusion of the word "scrotum". It's a densely layered track which could be about AIDS but seems to me to be more concerned with rampant consumerism - "I can't give you up till I've got more than enough", "Endow me with the gifts of the man made world". Johnson growls his way through the verses , the first of which contains the self-referential line " my aching little soul has started burning blue" ( Johnson released the album Burning Blue Soul under his own name in 1982) , with almost suffocating self-loathing then Tessa Niles and former Orange Juice drummer Zeke Manyika arrive to sugar the pill for the chorus. The whole song is anchored to a sledgehammer beat provided by former ABC drummer David Palmer , a big presence throughout the album and a doomy Blancmange-like bassline from Dan Brown ( not I think the Da Vinci Code guy ). Guy Barker's trumpet solo does owe a little to the synth break from Nutbush City Limits but it works.
"Out Of The Blue" cranks up the self-laceration to its highest notch with Johnson detailing a particularly squalid encounter with a prostitute. The first half of the song is semi-spoken with Johnson not making any attempt to fit his words into what structure is provided by the isolated Ry Cooder guitar chords and unresolving Depeche Mode synth lines. Palmer comes in half way through to give the song some backbone as Johnson gets into the act with a cumbersome mantra. Only in the final minute or so do we get some melody with Niles's brief verse and a grandiose but simple keyboard phrase. The video, which saw Johnson cavorting with a wobbly-bottomed whore was one of the more memorable of the octet.
Then comes "Heartland" , the first bona fide hit, where Johnson takes on Paul Weller's mantle ( without any faux-soul affectations ) to deliver a state-of-the-nation address. To the accompaniment of doom-laden strings and doleful piano courtesy of future Marillion singer Steve Hogarth , Johnson exposes the underbelly of Thatcher's Britain and its subservience to the USA. Janice Long, not someone I normally had much time for, bravely gave it a spin on daytime R1 ( despite the clearly enunciated "piss-stinking" in the first verse ) during the programme covering that summer's royal wedding ( Andrew and Fergie ) and drew a predictable chorus of complaints. Despite its head-on politics it's probably the most accessible song on the LP with a killer chorus where Niles's presence is again crucial.
"Angels of Deception " continues the theme of encroaching American cultural imperialism but it's not as good a song. The first verse is an extended Wild West metaphor set to a prowling swamp blues that approximates Tom Waits before Palmer kicks in for a rather ungainly chorus where The Croquets (who ?) replace Niles. The rest of the song doesn't really hang together musically culminating in a boring chant of the title.
Side Two commences with the leadoff single "Sweet Bird Of Truth" a cheery tale of a merc or spook going down in a plane over the Middle East where he's done his nefarious business. By an unhappy coincidence it came out just as the Americans bombed Libya. Palmer's not present here yielding to an uncompromising drum machine which along with the subject matter is predicative of the sound Sisters of Mercy Mark II would unleash the following year. Japanese singer Anna Domino helps out on the chorus but it was never a chart contender. (Actually it was a minor hit on re-release the following year ).
"Slow Train To Dawn" brings forward Neneh Cherry half way between Rip Rig and Panic and solo fame. The video had a game Neneh in a very unflattering pose tied to a railway line with her nipples poking through a tight sweater. She gets a generous helping of the song, a duet between a couple who no longer want each other waiting for the night to end.
This bleak vignette is set to a stomping Northern soul beat with blaring horns but lacks the strong chorus that might have got it into the Top 40.
"Twilight Of A Champion" gives a co-writing credit to Swans drummer Roland Mosiman for the music and duly points towards Nine Inch Nails and their ilk with its stuttering electro-funk and Gothic keyboards. On top of that you have ZTT also-ran Andrew Poppy's blasting brass arrangement and a jazz rhythm for the first verse. Underneath all that the song itself, a long suicide note from a self-hating business tycoon gets a little lost and it's an exhausting listen.
"The Mercy Beat" is another challenging listen at seven minutes long with frequent changes of musical setting and little in the way of a tune. Art of Noise's Anne Dudley and Gary Langan help out here and Palmer never lets up. Johnson spins a Nick Cave -ish yarn of wrestling with the devil but the final two minutes when his vocal drops out and an extended coda of punchy brass, Cure-ish circular guitar riff and jittery keyboards plays out the album are the best.
"Infected" did the trick in terms of lifting Johnson's profile and ensuring his next single went straight into the Top 20. For me I think if you've got the singles you don't really need the rest; it would be his next LP with a starry new collaborator that really hit the spot.