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SOUL MINING

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While Matt Johnson had previously made Burning Blue Soul as a solo record , Soul Mining was the first album by The The, and was released to huge critical acclaim in October 1983.  Indeed, a few years ago at the official website of The The, you could re-read endorsements from all four of the UK’s weekly music papers (NME, Sounds, Record Mirror and Melody Maker), as well as broadsheet newspapers and glossy magazines; there was even a thumbs-up from Smash Hits. But surely the most bizarre positive rating was this:-

“Soul Mining is certainly something to be treasured. One of those integrity leaden packages which manages to be both experimental and accessible.”
* (source at the foot of the page).

There’s only seven tracks on the vinyl version of  the LP with only three songs appearing on Side B. The Ramones it certainly wasn’t.

Most songs were at least 5 minutes long, with one stretching out to almost 10 minutes. But Genesis or Pink Floyd it certainly wasn’t.

From the opening countdown of ten-to-zero (which sounds as if it was sampled from an Apollo space mission) right through to the incessant beat and chanting of the closing song, this is an LP that has a bit of everything thrown in. Bitter and twisted lyrics of despair and attacks on Thatcherism nestle alongside songs about love, lust and devotion. But it’s very much the music that carries this album along.

The The, at the outset, hadn’t been a band.  It was a vehicle for Matt Johnson who preferred to write and sing songs backed by synthesizers and drum machines. But for Soul Mining other talents were brought into the studio, not least Zeke Manyika of Orange Juice – a hugely underrated drummer – and Jools Holland who contributed an astonishing piano solo to transform an older The The song – Uncertain Smile.

The use of these talents, combined with Matt’s growing confidence in his abilities as a vocalist, produced a piece of work that, in the opinion of this humble scribe, has not dated one iota.

I sometimes think Matt Johnson was someone just a little bit ahead of his time. Some ten years later, Thom Yorke and Radiohead came along with a similar style and approach that made them media darlings. And while I am very fond of The Bends and OK Computer, I do honestly believe that Soul Mining and its follow-up Infected are every bit as good. But I’m obviously in a minority going by poll after poll.

The full track listing of Soul Mining:-

01 I’ve Been Waitin’ For Tomorrow (All Of My Life)
02 This Is The Day
03 The Sinking Feeling
04 Uncertain Smile
05 The Twilight Hour
06 Soul Mining
07 Giant

Initial copies came with a free 12″ single, and one of these tracks – Perfect – became an eighth track on the CD version of the album released in 1987 but seemingly much to Matt’s displeasure as it was removed for the 2002 re-issue so that the album was again, just the seven tracks.

Soul Mining ranks high among my favourite albums of all time.  That is all.

mp3 : The The – I’ve Been Waitin’ For Tomorrow (All Of My Life)
mp3 : The The – Giant

*Oh and the unlikely plug for the album back in 1983 was from Penthouse magazine.

A LAZY STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE : 45 45s AT 45 (4)

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ORIGINALLY POSTED ON THURSDAY 12 JUNE 2008

(and re-posted on 5 November 2013)

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It was back in 1983 that I plucked up the courage to move out of the family home into a student flat in time for my third year out of four at university. And aside from a couple of times when I’ve returned to mum and dad’s place to sleep on a spare couch, numerous flatmates (and two wives) have been the ones that have had to put up with my mood swings for quarter-of-a-century. They’ve also had to put up with my taste in music, although thankfully, just about everyone (bar wife numero uno) who ever lived under the same roof as me liked what I was playing.

This particular song is the one that I most associate with my first flat.

‘Well you didn’t wake up this morning cos you didn’t go to bed’ – as an opening line seemed to capture what every weekend was designed for.

‘This is the day your life will surely change’ – as a chorus seemed to capture what the hope of every Friday and Saturday night was going to be about as I set out in the hope of finding a true soul mate.

This particular song is the perfect companion piece to How Soon Is Now? by The Smiths, yet another great hymn of the 80s dealing with angst, loneliness and a desire to belong. And while the genius guitar work of Johnny Marr was at the heart of what made his band’s song so special, so the accordion work of someone simply called Wicks turns This Is The Day into an instant classic.

Matt Johnson is probably the most under-rated and unappreciated singer/songwriter of my generation. He started off using The The as just another name for his solo efforts augmented by hugely talented guest musicians, including Jools Holland (who contribute a memorable piano solo on the LP version of Uncertain Smile) and Zeke Manyika who gave the drums one hell of a pounding on most of the LP Soul Mining, in a style that was completely different from his work with Orange Juice.

Then Matt decided that The The needed to become a band, primarily for touring purposes – and lo and behold, he unveils Johnny Marr as his lead guitarist. Strange as it may seem, Johnny was actually a member of The The longer than he was in The Smiths….

From 1983-1992, The The released four LPs at regular intervals. Three of these – Soul Mining (1983), Infected (1986) and Dusk (1992) remain among my favourites by any band. And while Mind Bomb (1989) is a bit more patchy, it did spawn a couple of great singles, including the astonishing and controversial Armageddon Days Are Here Again, the first few seconds of which are a tribute to 70s glam rock band The Sweet, before turning into a fantastic tirade against those who use religion to justify war and violence.

Just when I thought The The could do no wrong, Matt dissolved the band as it was, and in 1995 unleashed Hanky Panky an LP consisting solely of covers of songs by Hank Williams. It’s pretty awful with few redeeming features……

It was another five years before the next The The LP – Naked Self – which was very much an understated production but a fabulous return to form. Since then, all of the old LPs have been remastered, remixed and re-issued, as well as the release of a ‘Best Of’ with very little in the way of new songs being available in the shops. However, Matt remains very active in the things that most interest him, and much of his energy is focused on a truly stunning website which can be found here. And that’s where you’ll be able to hear some new songs……

But returning back to This Is The Day……

I was sure this was a minor hit back in 1983 – I certainly recall seeing the promo on the telly as well as Matt making at least one appearance on a Channel 4 chatshow performing the song. And yet it barely scraped the Top 75. Maybe that’s why the song was given a radical makeover in 1994 as the main track of the Dis-Infected EP which did hit the Top 20 and saw the band appear on Top Of The Pops.

The 1983 single was yet another 7” single that was lost for many years, but now I have a copy back in the collection. The version I owned was a limited edition double-pack, and it’s that which I picked up (at some expense) on e-bay a couple of months back. And here are all the songs in their full glory…

mp3 : The The – This Is The Day (single version)
mp3 : The The – Mental Healing Process
mp3 : The The – Leap Into The Wind
mp3 : The The – Absolute Liberation

I bet the b-side and the other two tracks weren’t what you would have expected given the pop brilliance of the single……each of them were culled from an unreleased LP called The Pornography of Despair.

And as a bonus, here’s the 1994 version of the song:-

mp3 : The The – That Was The Day

 

PERFECT SMILE

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R-506444-1124987902.jpgR-506444-1124987927.jpgI have to admit that I really cringed when I read the part in Luke Haines‘ supremely entertaining bio Bad Vibes… that went into some detail about a huge fall-out he had with Matt Johnson when The Auteurs were the support act for The The. It’s brilliantly written but it leaves both protagonists looking like a pair of dickheads.

Now I know it’s not essential that you necessarily have to like everything about your favourite musicians, authors, artists, sports stars and so on, but if they have very severe character defects it does make it all the harder. Reading what Haines felt about Johnson was quite uncomfortable, but hey….it’s only one bloke’s view and opinion and it doesn’t detract from the fact that over a recording career that now stretches back some 30 years, a lot of the music written, recorded, produced and released by Matt Johnson is quite special (there’s also been one or two follies along the way, but everyone is entitled to an error somewhere along the line).

I can never make up my mind which of the The The LPs is my particular favourite. Some days I rejoice in the glorious synth-pop of Soul Mining from 1983, while there are other days when the sheer beauty of some of the lyrics and guitar playing from Johnny Marr make me think that Dusk from a decade later is preferable. But then again, when I’m in one of my melancholy moods, I can be transported back to a time and a place when I wasn’t entirely happy with my lot and the 1986 effort Infected was very much the soundtrack to my life. David Gedge may be the best songwriter about the pain from relationships, but Matt Johnson in 1986 perfectly captured fear, paranoia and isolation in a world that was far from secure and which right-wing zealots seemed keen to take to the brink of destruction.

But instead of looking at any of those, I’ve gone back even further in time, to the days of the early singles, different versions of which would ultimately appear on Soul Mining. And sitting in the cupboard is a 12″ single that I found in a second-hand store in Toronto back in the summer of 2007 for the princely sum of $4, released on Epic Records and brings together versions of two very early singles:-

mp3 : The The – Perfect (extended version)
mp3 : The The – Uncertain Smile (extended version)

Between them, the two songs run to a total of 19 minutes. Some of you might think that’s just a bit self-indulgent, but I most certainly don’t.

Enjoy

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM #5 – THE THE

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index

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:-

Side A

1. I’ve Been Waitin’ For Tomorrow (All Of My Life) (Special Mix)
2. Slow Emotion Replay
3. Infected
4. The Beat(en) Generation
5. Uncertain Smile

Side B

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.

Enjoy.

IS IT ANY WONDER WE CAN’T STOP FIGHTING WITH EACH OTHER?

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A cracking novel I read a while back made a claim about there being a ridiculously high number of christian denominations in the world.  As the novel was a parody, I assumed the figure being quoted was for comic effect.  It was when I was rummaging through the cupboard recently searching through Tindersticks for the copy of Kathleen that featured at the beginning of the week that I came across all of my 7″ singles by The The (of course my vinyl is  filed alphabetically).

The fact that one of the 7″ singles has an excellent and fairly rare remix on its b-side is the sole reason for featuring it today.  But it also acted as a reminder to check out the number of christain  denominations. So I fired up wiki.

41,000 is the estimate.

41,000……………………………………..

Admittedly, many of the 41,000 have just a handful of followers but it is still a mind-boggling number and this link will give you an idea of just how many christian religions there are out there….all, more or less, proclaiming theirs is the one true way.

41,000………………………………………. jeez.

Even those who preach the word of god admit that the denominationalism is usually the outcome of conflict and confrontation. And that’s scary enough without considering the fights that break out as a result of disagreements over different religions.

mp3 : The The – Armageddon Days Are Here Again (radio edit)
mp3 : The The – Armageddon Days Are Here Again (orchestral version)

From 1989.  It reached #70 in the UK singles chart.  You won’t be surprised to hear it didn’t get much in the way of airtime.

The single version features the god-like genius of Johnny Marr.

Is it fair to say that he would feature in any list of the top 41,000 guitarists in the world?

MY ALL TIME TOP 10 SINGLES : THIS IS THE DAY by THE THE

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R-505879-1124904147

It was back in 1983 that I plucked up the courage to move out of the family home into a student flat in time for my third year out of four at university. And aside from a couple of times when I’ve returned to mum and dad’s place to sleep on a spare couch, numerous flatmates (and two wives) have been the ones that have had to put up with my mood swings for quarter-of-a-century. They’ve also had to put up with my taste in music, although thankfully, just about everyone (bar wife numero uno) who ever lived under the same roof as me liked what I was playing.

This particular song is the one that I most associate with my first flat.

‘Well you didn’t wake up this morning cos you didn’t go to bed’ – as an opening line seemed to capture what every weekend was designed for.

‘This is the day your life will surely change’ – as a chorus seemed to capture what the hope of every Friday and Saturday night was going to be about as I set out in the hope of finding a true soul mate.

This particular song is the perfect companion piece to How Soon Is Now? by The Smiths, yet another great hymn of the 80s dealing with angst, loneliness and a desire to belong. And while the genius guitar work of Johnny Marr was at the heart of what made his band’s song so special, so the accordion work of someone simply called Wicks turns This Is The Day into an instant classic.

Matt Johnson is probably the most under-rated and unappreciated singer/songwriter of my generation. He started off using The The as just another name for his solo efforts augmented by hugely talented guest musicians, including Jools Holland (who contributes a memorable piano solo on the LP version of Uncertain Smile) and Zeke Manyika who gave the drums one hell of a pounding on most of the LP Soul Mining, in a style that was completely different from his work with Orange Juice.

Then Matt decided that The The needed to become a band, primarily for touring purposes – and lo and behold, he unveils Johnny Marr as his lead guitarist. Strange as it may seem, Johnny was actually a member of The The longer than he was in The Smiths….

From 1983-1992, The The released four LPs at regular intervals. Three of these – Soul Mining (1983), Infected (1986) and Dusk (1992) remain among my favourites by any band. And while Mind Bomb (1989) is a bit more patchy, it did spawn a couple of great singles, including the astonishing and controversial Armageddon Days Are Here Again, the first few seconds of which are a tribute to 70s glam rock band The Sweet, before turning into a fantastic tirade against those who use religion to justify war and violence.

Just when I thought The The could do no wrong, Matt dissolved the band as it was, and in 1995 unleashed Hanky Panky an LP consisting solely of covers of songs by Hank Williams. It’s pretty awful with few redeeming features……

It was another five years before the next The The LP – Naked Self – which was very much an understated production but a fabulous return to form. Since then, all of the old LPs have been remastered, remixed and re-issued, as well as the release of a ‘Best Of’ with very little in the way of new songs being available in the shops. However, Matt remains very active in the things that most interest him, and much of his energy is focused on a truly stunning website which can be found here. And that’s where you’ll be able to hear some new songs……

But returning back to This Is The Day……

I was sure this was a minor hit back in 1983 – I certainly recall seeing the promo on the telly as well as Matt making at least one appearance on a Channel 4 chat show performing the song. And yet it barely scraped the Top 75. Maybe that’s why the song was given a radical makeover in 1994 as the main track of the Dis-Infected EP which did hit the Top 20 and saw the band appear on Top Of The Pops.

The 1983 single was yet another 7” single that was lost for many years, but now I have a copy back in the collection. The version I owned was a limited edition double-pack, and it’s that which I picked up (at some expense) on e-bay a couple of months back. And here are all the songs in their full glory…

mp3 : The The – This Is The Day (single version)
mp3 : The The – Mental Healing Process
mp3 : The The – Leap Into The Wind
mp3 : The The – Absolute Liberation

I bet the b-side and the other two tracks weren’t what you would have expected given the pop brilliance of the single……each of them were culled from an unreleased LP called The Pornography of Despair.