Where is Matt Johnson, The The's ringleader, when we need him? It seems the man responsible for some of the '80s' most prescient and beautiful music has finally grown up and moved to Sweden, of all places, after years of living in New York. His last few records failed to live up to the promise of his earlier work; the man has lost that proverbial "soul and fire." Thankfully, his first four records for Epic are being reissued this summer, in addition to a fantastic singles/remix compilation. The digitally remastered CDs prove that The The's particular brand of soulful and often political music only gets better with time.
Mind Bomb in particular sounds spectacular, benefiting greatly from the reworking. "Kingdom of Rain," Matt Johnson's epic duet with Sinead O'Connor, still sends chills up the spine, and his political leanings also resonate deeply even today. Check "Armageddon Days (Are Here Again)": "Islam is rising/the Christians mobilizing/the world is on its elbows and knees/it's forgotten the message and worships the creed." The song still shocks with eloquence, power, and meaning. The The proved that you could mix smart politics with rock music and not end up sounding preachy like U2 or dated like the Alarm. Johnson's insistence on using synths, fantastic session musicians, and effects to add mood at a time when guitar-rock ruled the earth also has held up well in today's electro-friendly musical climate. But, like every great band, you are ultimately judged by the quality of your songs -- and Johnson wrote some great ones.
Although Dusk and Infected have their moments, true fans will eschew those releases in favor of the intimate and personal Soul Mining -- one of the decade's great overlooked records. Like a modern-day Shelley, Johnson bravely takes on subjects like death and unrequited love with grace and subtlety. Who else apart from Morrissey could write a lyric like "Uncertain emotions force an uncertain smile"? Johnson, that's who. While the Smiths get all the credit for cornering smart, emotional '80s mope-rock, The The had some truly transcendent moments.
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