Favorite Bands: The The

The The, aka Matt Johnson and an always-shifting list of band members, has had quite an interesting musical history.  Numerous alleged albums never released or rejected by labels (See Without Being SeenSpiritsThe Pornography of DespairGun Sluts, and Karmic Gravity) and extremely hard to find singles are balanced out by six official albums, three soundtracks, and one box set.  [I’m yet to order those soundtracks, as they’re import-only.]

Johnson’s writing style is quite different from a lot of post-punk and college rock bands from the same era.  His lyrics can be both volatile and tender; he was never afraid to say what was on his mind, whether it was anger or love.

His first album, Buring Blue Soul, was released in 1981 under his own name and features a more angular sound inspired by Wire (BC Gilbert and Graham Lewis worked with him on a few tracks). It’s a bit of a strange album, but it’s worth it just to hear how creative he was at the beginning.

1983’s Soul Mining, however, is considered one of his best albums, featuring a full band sound, excellent production and tight songwriting. Some of his best-known songs are from this LP, including “This Is the Day”, “Perfect” and “Uncertain Smile”. [Check out the phenomenal extended piano solo, played by Squeeze’s Jools Holland, in that last track.]

In 1986 he released an eight-song opus about love, sex, hope and death called Infected, complete with an extended video production featuring visuals of all the tracks, filmed all over the globe. It’s harsh and unrelenting, but it’s an incredible journey from start to finish.


(this one features the vocals of Neneh Cherry, just a few short years before her own breakout)

He followed that up three years later in 1989 with Mind Bomb, featuring a wider world view: war, violence, politics, post-Reagan/Thatcher life, and yes, even love. It also features Johnny Marr, fresh out of the Smiths and the Pretenders, who would stay with him for one more album.


(a breathtaking duet with Sinead O’Connor)

In 1990, he’d sneak out a single that remains one of my favorite The The tracks, “Jealous of Youth”. It would also surface a few years later on the Solitude EP.

In 1993 he returned for another full-band album, Dusk, which fit quite nicely into the sounds of commercial alternative rock, and gave him some serious airplay. That didn’t keep him from releasing his bare emotions, however…

He followed it up two years later with…a Hank Williams cover album? I’ll admit it’s not one of my favorite The The albums as I’m not entirely sure what he was aiming for here, but hey… it’s still pretty good!

He wouldn’t reappear for another five years, with 2000’s Naked Self. It’s a much calmer affair…moodier, but calmer. It’s definitely worth picking up.

…and from there, he vanished from public view, working here and there on scores and soundtracks (Moonbug, Hyena and Tony, all under his The The moniker, plus numerous art films) as well as an occasional shortwave radio show over the years, only resurfacing recently with his Radio Cinéola box set and a documentary called The Inertia Variations. At the moment there’s rumors he’s working on a new album, but time will tell…

Thirty Years On: Random January 1988

One problem with going into a chronological overview like this is that sometimes it’s hard to pin down a release date. Quite often, before the Tuesday release date plan started up around 1988-89, labels would drop an album with minimal fanfare and a ‘soft release’…basically putting it out there whenever it just happened to be ready to go.  I’m sure someone at the label office has the date on record somewhere, but they’ve never made it known.

The downside to this is that sometimes one can only guess when it dropped. Sometimes the band will have a rough date (though that’s a big if — most bands will have little to no idea), but more often it relies on someone’s memories. I’ve managed to narrow down some dates due to my memories of listening to them during a specific timeframe, or that it was on the charts at a particular time, or that one of their songs appeared on a mixtape I’d made on a certain date.

That said…here’s a few releases that, to the best of my knowledge, came out in January of 1988.

Hugo Largo, Drum. Predating the quiet minimalism of early Belle & Sebastian and the off-kilter melodies of later Bjork, Hugo Largo’s strange alt-folk was embraced fully by the college crowds. Some of it might seem a bit too twee or precious now, but it’s still a fascinating listen. They were championed by Michael Stipe, who definitely helped them gain a following. Also: check out a fantastic cover of the Kinks’ “Fancy” from the same album.

Two Men, a Drum Machine and a Trumpet, “I’m Tired of Getting Pushed Around”. A band with a longer name than their discography — this one single. Essentially Andy Cox and David Steele (formerly of The Beat, and at the time part of Fine Young Cannibals), they dropped this one house track that found its way through dance clubs and even a music bed for Entertainment Tonight segments. It’s a silly throwaway track, but it’s a classic one.

The Other Ones, Learning to Walk. You may remember this band from their late-1986 self-titled album and the minor radio favorites “We Are What We Are” and “Holiday”…or not. They were a bit of an obscure pop favorite on the US shores, and alas, this second album was never released here. I only recently found it online, and I’m kind of surprised at how good it actually is. It’s definitely of its time, but it holds up quite nicely to the first album.

Lowlife, Swirl, It Swings EP. If that bass sounds familiar, it’s because it’s Will Heggie, the original bassist for Cocteau Twins. They’re kind of similar to The Comsat Angels or Joy Division.

Moev,Yeah Whatever. One of those bands on the Nettwerk label I always had a hard time locating back in the day, they were sort of an EBM-goth hybrid that reminded me of a less aggro Front 242.  They’d get a lot of college radio airplay thanks to “Yeah Whatever” and “Crucify Me”. Definitely an album to have in your collection.

Next Up: More January releases, this time with actual release dates!

Thirty Years On

Yeah, I’m pretty sure y’all saw this coming some time ago.  My unhealthy obsession with the music of 1988 deems it necessary that I do the occasional thirty-years-on post this year.  But hey!  This time I’ll focus only on the music and spare you the personal stories you’ve heard enough times already.  This’ll be like my Blogging the Beatles posts from a few years back, taking my favorite music from my favorite year specifically from a listener’s point of view.  I don’t have any set schedule or plan for this series , so it’ll most likely be sporadic, depending on the release dates and so on.

I decided to use the classic Guns n’ Roses “Welcome to the Jungle” (or as my friend Chris once call it back then, “Welcome to my Uncle’s”) as my header video for this introduction for a few reasons.  Even though the track had been released back in July of 1987, it was still getting heavy airplay alongside their other classic single “Sweet Child o’ Mine”.  Originally I was not a GnR fan at all, lumping them in with all the other hair metal bands of the day.  But on the same token, they were essentially the hardest-sounding band out there at the time.  A quick look at the early January pop charts and you’ll notice that pop music was leaning perilously towards the ‘lite’ side.  It was refreshingly inclusive and included multiple genres and performers, sure, but you’ve got to admit that there wasn’t much of a spine to many of those songs.  GnR was the much-needed exception to that rule.

It was time to look a bit deeper into the independents if I was going to satiate my need for exciting music.

Jonc’s Best of 2017 List!

cosima to build a house

from Cosima’s “To Build a House” video

As always, it was tricky to figure out which albums to put on these lists, because I listened to a hell of a lot of music.  I decided this time out it wasn’t just about repeated listenings, but albums that made me stop and notice.  The list is quite varied this time out, featuring electronic sounds, punk, a heartbreaking soul ballad, a greatest hits album and a live album, quirky alternative pop, and more.  And yes, I do suggest you check them out if you haven’t already.

2015 Albums
15. Lydia Ainsworth, Darling of the Afterglow
14. The Jesus and Mary Chain, Damage and Joy
13. Minus the Bear, VOIDS
12. UNKLE, The Road: Part 1
11. Liam Gallagher, As You Were
10. Rainer Maria, S/T
9. Spoon, Hot Thoughts
8. Elbow, Little Fictions
7. Sylvan Esso, What Now
6. Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Wembley Or Bust
5. LCD Soundsystem, American Dream
4. Elbow, The Best of
3. U2, Sounds of Experience
2. The Sound of Arrows, Stay Free
1. The New Pornographers, Whiteout Conditions

2015 Singles
15. Rainer Maria, “Lower Worlds”
14. Alice Merton, “No Roots”
13. UNKLE, “The Road”
12. Lydia Ainsworth, “Ricochet”
11. Sylvan Esso, “Die Young”
10. Elbow, “Magnificent (She Says)”
9. Spoon, “Hot Thoughts”
8. U2, “You’re the Best Thing About Me”
7. Portugal. The Man, “Feel It Still”
6. Gang of Youths, “What Can I Do If the Fire Goes Out?”
5. The Sound of Arrows, “Stay Free”
4. The New Pornographers, “High Ticket Attractions”
3. LCD Soundsystem, “Tonite”
2. Japandroids, “Near to the Wild Heart of Life”
1. Cosima, “To Build a House”

Many Welcome Returns: New Releases from Classic Bands
Chuck Berry, Chuck
Paul Draper, Spooky Action
Dishwalla, Juniper Road
Living Colour, Shade
Rainer Maria, S/T
Ride, Weather Diaries
Slowdive, Slowdive
The Darling Buds, Evergreen EP
Roger Waters, Is This the Life We Really Want?

Best Reissues and Box Sets
The Beatles, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Deluxe Edition
Lloyd Cole, In New York (Collected Recordings 1988-1996)
Curve, Doppelganger and Cuckoo
Golden Earring, Complete Studio Recordings
George Michael, Listen Without Prejudice/MTV Unplugged
Yoko Ono, Fly, Approximately Infinite Universe and Feeling the Space
Prince & the Revolution, Purple Rain Deluxe Expanded Edition
Radiohead, OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017
The Smiths, The Queen Is Dead [Deluxe Edition]
The The, Radio Cinéola Trilogy
U2, The Joshua Tree Super Deluxe Edition
The Who, Maximum A’s & B’s

The Inertia Variations

I don’t know how Matt Johnson does it, but he always manages to say what’s been on my mind.  In this case, thinking about what life gives and takes away…and our part in it.

The The hasn’t released any rock albums since 2000’s NakedSelf.  He’s slipped out three soundtracks (Tony, Hyena and Moonbug) in the last few years, and just this year he’s released a box set of sounds and commentary from his occasional shortwave radio show, Radio Cinéola.  It contains exactly one new The The song, “We Can’t Stop What’s Coming”, dedicated to his recently-deceased brother Andrew.

I think I need to give his early albums a spin again.  They’ve always been a hard listen; they’re not painful, but they pull no punches whatsoever.  They’ll pull the curtains down to reveal the shittiness of the world, but at the same time they’ll also reveal how beautiful and precious it is.

The Inertia Variations is a documentary made about his inability to release anything new over the last decade and a half other than his soundtracks.  I have not yet seen it (he’s currently touring it around the UK) but I’m hoping it’ll be available to us here in the US sometime next year.  It’s an interesting title and idea, really.  It’s about a man stuck in stasis, unsure of where he wants to go, or if he wants to go anywhere at all.  It’s not entirely laziness, it’s also an inability to find purchase on stable ground.

And I’m sure we’ve all felt that.  Whether we want to admit it or not.

Step On My Old Size Nines

For some reason the above Stereophonics track popped into my head the other day. It’s one of their older tracks from Just Enough Education to Perform (such a wonderfully acid way to describe a hack writer, I think). They’re an excellent Welsh band that sort of fell into my lap during the HMV years and I’ve been following them ever since. They just came out with a new album a few weeks ago (Scream Above the Sounds) which is definitely worth a listen.

Here’s a few tracks I think you might like from them as well. Go and check them out!