This album, as many of the preceding albums of this, Matt Johnson’s terrific band, have blown me away. You might even say they have detonated a mind bomb. Father has remonstrated me for failing to mention that Matt Johnson was a member of Marc and the Mambas, the group Marc Almond formed after Soft Cell. So there you have it. Dusk is an evocative, dark, and self reflecting album which shines a light on some tough injustices in the world through the prism of Johnson himself. Johnny Marr, from the Smiths, plays guitar on this album.
It ends a great trilogy of records (including 1986’s Infected and 1989’s Mind Bomb) that showed The The mastermind Matt Johnson perfecting his personal musical vision while accumulating the right musicians to pull the whole thing off. Of those three, Infected (like far too many ’80s albums) sounds the most dated. The beat-driven dissonance of Mind Bomb fares better, but for the most part, Dusk sounds like it could have been released today. Pop Matters
The first track, True Happiness This Way Lies, is oddly Christian in its reflection. It starts with a pseudo stand up comedy routine, followed by agonised vocals and culminates in Johnson postulating that the only way to be happy in life is free yourself from desires. This is what the Church teaches in many ways. Chastity being one way in which we can remove an aspect of our pre-marital lives which blinds us to other qualities of our potential partner, for example. But more on that in a later post, or perhaps not.
The following tracks, in particular the third, fourth and sixth (Dogs of Lust, This Is the Night and Helpline Operator) tell stories of the seedy underbelly of London but also individual within the city. The subject matter is their illicit desires and exposing them for what they are, and in a way seeking to cure the listener of the very same desires. Love is Stronger than Death is one of the album’s triumphs. Singing with painful emotion, Johnson describes how the beauty of love can transcend even the dread of mortality. Again this is a Christian sentiment. The idea that one can love beyond death has been explored innumerable times, for example in this wonderful poem by Elisabeth Browning.
Undoubtedly ‘Dusk’ can be marked down as a retreat in terms of some of Johnson’s usual ambitions; compared to its predecessors the lyrics aren’t nearly as political and the arrangements are generally less elaborate, though this is counterbalanced by the new artistic opportunities the fresh format affords. The traditional instrumentation allows for greater light and shade, the production feels warmer and Johnson lets the intimacy shine through in his vocals. The lyrics here are less interested in the politics of states and nations instead choosing to focus on the politics of individuals within society, uncovering the hidden drives and desires that manipulate us all. The album title ‘Dusk’ could quite easily have been replaced with ‘Lust’ for this is a work practically dripping with illicit passions and sexual loathing. Sputnik
The penultimate song Bluer Than Midnight frightened me somewhat. The final words of the track intimating that Johnson is more stimulated by fear than love were rather harrowing. As though by antidote, the last track, Lonely Planet, is about accepting one’s lot and ends with “the world’s too big, and life’s too short, to be alone”.
A wonderful, fulsome and devastating album which is likely The The’s best work.
Welcome to the March 2022 edition of Five Favourites. See below my choices for this month
Black and White – The Stranglers (1978)
The four members of the Stranglers are looking quite morose on this cover. You will be glad to know that the B side of Tank, when it was released on vinyl, has the original singer, Dionne Warwick, on it. This is the same with the vinyl itself. I love this cover and so too does Mr Nick, who remarked on it when I showed him the vinyl.
London Calling – The Clash (1979)
British photographer Penny Smith took this iconic photograph. You can see an excellent article on the cover here. I was fascinated to read that she does not like the photograph of the lead singer, Paul Simonon, smashing his good bass guitar, as it is out of focus. This was the case, because she was backing away from him so as not to get hit!
The The – Soul Mining (1983)
This was album of the month last month and with good reason. The cover feels very much like how you will feel when listening to it. It speaks to the shocking soul searching of the lead singer, whom my father reliably informs me was in Marc and the Mambas. It is a difficult album and indeed a dark one. The cover speaks volumes.
Stop Making Sense – Talking Heads (1984)
The Big Suit. Need I say more? This cover contains one of the more iconic jackets in music history. I believe the suit is either in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or some fashion museum. This album is out of this world but the cover is pretty awesome too.
Night Flight to Venus – Boney M (1978)
For my last cover I have chosen the excellent Night Flight to Venus. Imagine four be-tutued Germans coming at you, at speed, while holding on to a rope. Is there anything more horrifying? Yes: their other album covers.
This magnificent, sad, brilliant album was the debut of British post-punk/synth-pop band The The. My father has been pushing this album on me for some time but I had hitherto ignored him. Feeling the pang of desire for new music, I decided to investigate The The. The result was quite extraordinary.
I’ve Been Waitin’ For Tomorrow (All Of My Life)
This Is The Day
The Sinking Feeling
The Twilight Hour
The opening of Soul Mining is an infectious and portentous drum beat with subdued humming followed by an astonishing panoply of synth wonderment. It strikes a truly cheerful note with the opening lyrics:
Covering my body in leaves
And trying not to breath
All my childhood dreams
Are bursting at the seams
And dangling around my knees
I’ve been deformed by emotional scars
And the cancer of love has eaten out my heart
I’ve been stripped bare and nobody cares
And all the people I looked up to are no longer there
The second track continues on the deep hues of synth, complex in their arrangements. The main repeated lyric is:
This is the day (This is the day)
Your life will surely change
I felt thusly when listening to this album for the first time. I could not believe the quality of synth, the arrangement, and the dreadfully sad lyrics. The total package of this track is arresting.
The lyrics contained the occasional hint of histrionic gaucheness – “the cancer of love has eaten out my heart” seems a pretty melodramatic way to say you got dumped – but more often they’re strikingly precocious: Uncertain Smile’s brilliant drawing of a confused relationship, The Twilight Hour’s painfully accurate depiction of self-obsession. Guardian
The third track The Sinking Feeling is just wonderful. It is energetic, fun, and characteristically sad.
Uncertain Smile is the shining crown jewel of the album. The languishing synth and foreboding bass predicts an exquisite minutes-long piano solo, which I did not register fully on first listening to this album. Much like the harpsichord solo in the first movement of the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto (which Nick reliably informs me is called a cadenza), this is a passage of epic proportion. It is played by Jools Holland, if you can believe it. The track is tied together by this wonderful section which sits atop the ranking of the album’s tunes.
A howling wind that blows the litter as the rain flows
As street lamps pour orange coloured shapes, through your windows
A broken soul stares from a pair of watering eyes
Uncertain emotions force an uncertain smile
I’ve got you under my skin where the rain can’t get in
But if the sweat pours out, just shout
I’ll try to swim and pull you out
The title track is quite striking. The lyrics are painful, and the bass is deep. The beautiful “wah wah” guitar notes, coupled with lighter guitar, bass and percussion, join together into a musical feast. The synth solo to close out this track and lead into Giant is superlative.
“Something always goes wrong when things are going right…
You’ve swallowed your pride –
– to quell the pain inside
Someone captured your heart – just like a thief in the night
& squeezed all juice out – until it ran dry”
The closer “Giant” is a perfect summary of the album’s manifesto. An incredibly serious piece of music and an existential musing upon the nature of the self – “How could anyone know me when I don’t even know myself?” – it’s a theme Matt Johnson would revisit on the majestic ‘Slow Emotion Replay” from 1993’s Dusk. Lineofbestfit
I am a stranger to myself
And nobody knows I’m here
When I looked into my face
It wasn’t myself I’d seen
But who I’ve tried to be
Giant is a ten minute feast. It speaks of identity, self-knowledge, pain and reckoning with one’s past. Here The The are at their most anxious, espousing a very human fear of God, Hell, the past, but ultimately, of ourselves. Grappling with identity, one’s place in the world and the two inter relate is a life’s challenge are themes of the track. This struggle for acceptance by others and by ourselves is played out at length in the closing track. I got a sense for the depth of Matt Johnson’s (lead singer) anxiety. The final track is arresting, immediate and expansive, a fitting end to a monumental album.
This is a vitally important record. Its themes provoke tension and anxiety at times. However, the variety of the styles, genres and talents are there for all to see. This is a work of gargantuan scope which has left quite a mark on this reviewer. If you have time, please explore the rest of The The’s work, especially their 1989 offering, Mind Bomb.
Welcome to the February 2022 edition of Five Favourites. My thanks again to Nick for pressing me to do this originally many moons ago. See below five album covers which have been, in Stephen Fry’s words “intriguing me rather“.
Hugh Maskela – Trumpet Africaine (1962)
There’s something marvellous about 23 year old Hugh taking up the full cover with a symmetrical shot of him playing the trumpet. The framing is beautiful, the instrument is magnificent. The cover is telling the viewer what they can expect from the album, a talented young man, playing the trumpet. Superb, in my view.
Ted Nugent – Cat Scratch Fever (1977)
If you feel like googling this afterwards, I suggest using the artist’s name to avoid some disturbing images of havoc wrought by our feline friends. This cover is excellent. It shows one’s internal emotions after being attacked by a cat, which causes initial pain, but then being reminded of this betrayal by itching in the place we have been struck. I can relate to Mr Nugent on many levels, though my hair has never been that long or frizzy.
Kraftwerk – Computer World (1981)
This truly magnificent album is covered by a three coloured, minimalist feast. I love the contrasting colours, the four teletext Germans and the grey of the computer. This cover does not hint at the magnificence of the album which is to follow.
Face Value – Phil Collins (1981)
In 2016, the beloved artist, formerly of Genesis, re-released his albums in a suite called ‘take a look at me now’. I have included both as they are quite extraordinary, both. This was and remains a searingly honest cover which lives up to its title. The notable similarity in the 2016 cover is Collins’ eyes, and his piercing gaze. A great cover.
Shakara – Fela Kuti and the Afrika 70 (1972)
I have kept this hilarious cover for the last. Here, Fela has put together a group of topless women to create an aerial outline of Afrika and the number 70, with him, speedoed, gleefully at the centre of the 0. Woke feminist politics aside, this is quintessentially Fela and he must have had the greatest time planning and orchestrating this cover. If nothing else, it is a lot of fun, which we could all use more of.
I suppose it was about time I wrote about local Tamworth boy Julian Cope. Unbeknownst to my father, perhaps among the foremost Copey fans, I have been listening to Cope for some time in secret. Peggy Suicide is named after “a figure representing Mother Earth who appeared to Cope in a dream in the “loose fit” summer of 1990”. It speak of ecological and social collapse with a focus on creating moods through song, rather than an oppressive picture painted through a structured concept throughout the album. In my view he does so quite successfully. This is a double album of some length so I shall focus only on my three highlights and let you discover the might of this album for your good selves.
Peggy Suicide offered up songs about safe sex and AIDs, killing Margaret Thatcher, the wisdom of fighting the police, pollution and the “nascent” climate emergency, swimming with dolphins, drowning on hallucinogens, the Poll Tax, and a late night taproom band comprising a rat, a cat and a barman. All in all, a lot to take in. The Quietus
Safesurfer is a song about AIDS and its consequences, personally and in the public’s perception of the sufferer. Being written in the early 90s, one can imagine public perception of, and sympathy towards, AIDS sufferers was not yet at its current level. The turmoil felt by them is captured in a “long luxuriant guitar squall”, a powerful musical statement, perhaps akin to the musical foray in Heroin by The Velvet Underground.
Peggy Suicide is a global creation, I believe Julian Cope created it as God created the earth – in the beginning all was void and darkness imbued with silence were upon the face of the deep. And Julian Cope said, let there be lyrics: and there were lyrics. And Julian Cope said, let there be music: and there was music. And in mellow and rich Morrisonesque voice Julian Cope sang: “You seem lonely oh Avalon I feel evidence very strong. Beautiful love, now beautiful love where have you gone. You make my life oh so long, say, make believe it ain’t so wrong”. Review by user Vitabenco on Discogs
East Easy Rider is also one of my highlights. Described in the Quietus as creating a giddy heaviness, this track is toe tappingly catchy. The riff is so catchy that it will stay with you for the whole evening. It is ostensibly a song about riding around at leisure on a motorbike, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.
Picking out only some highlights does the album as a whole a disservice, but besides offering up an instant catchy pop single, “Beautiful Love,” Cope handles everything from the minimal moods of “Promised Land” and experimentation of “Western Front 1992 CE” to the frenetic “Hanging Out and Hung Up on the Line” and commanding “Drive, She Said.” An absolute, stone-cold rock classic, full stop. Allmusic
These newly sonorous tones catered for a preacher-style delivery and allowed deft switches in tone and meaning; ones that could be applied to the wider range of material, sonically and thematically. Cope’s addiction to falling on his arse and keeping the serious blues at bay suddenly came to his aid artistically, courtesy of some fantastic rants and strung out pleadings throughout the record. Two classic examples on Peggy Suicide are heard in the radiant love song to his wife Dorian, ‘The American Lite’, where Julian worries whether a new song “sounds like The Boss”. The Quietus
The American Lite is the penultimate track on the album. It is a love song to his wife. It is insistent, confusing, urgent and unnerving. The piano is quite cool, the Catholic overtones caught me off guard. Indeed if he has been to confession, not committed any mortal sins, and received his last Rites then drowned in Holy Water, I suppose he would not die, if you are of the Catholic persuasion. This feverish urgency sets up the last and final track of the album quite beautifully.
I’m gonna douse myself in holy water
Got the fever inside
I’m gonna drown myself in holy water
Got the fever, it won’t dieFact my love is stronger now
And my life is leaving jail
She’s got a love, it’s getting wide and bright
Concentric circles running to the American lite
Overall, no review I could write would do justice to this wonderful album. It is a whole fully fledged product. Peggy Suicide is well ahead of its time and largely flawless. Please do go listen to it and make room for dancing.
I know the much vaunted AOTM post is looming around the corner but I thought I cannot exclude this splendid work of art by Dele Sosimi. He was the band leader for Fela’s Egypt 80 and founded Positive Force with Fela. He also hosts a bi-monthly Afrobeat night in London, which I will have to attend.
There is Femi and Seun Kuti, of course, and the ever-dextrous iconic Tony Allen, who guests hither and yon. But nobody is keeping Fela’s Afrobeat flag flying as proudly as Dele Sosimi: composer, keyboard player, bandleader and wearer of some of the finest Abeti Aja dog-ear caps in the world. Songlines
From the first, this album is invigorating, the Fela sound distilled for modern times and recorded on excellent equipment. The second track Na My Turn is suffused with political disaffection, which one would hope would no longer be needed in 2015 but there you are. Dele was both eviscerating politicians in Nigeria and the UK General Election. a fascinating piece. Dele was born in Hackney, London, so his dual political nationality is fascinating.
Na My Turn is a very timely political statement, coming as it does at the time of the upcoming elections in both Dele’s ‘homeland’ of Nigeria, and prior to the forthcoming UK General Election in May. Echoing the feelings of many in both Africa and at home, Dele has grown tired of the same old leaders from the same old parties and makes a stand that it’s now his turn for president! His turn for Governor! And who wouldn’t vote for this man with his striking words and forceful backing from his mighty Afrobbeat Orchestra! Bandcamp
The relentless energy of the album follows through every track. The title track is suffused with combative fire. The drums are exquisite, the funk horns fill the soul and the keyboard synth is a direct call back to his beloved former bandmate Fela. This is a tribute to Fela and his mammoth contribution to Afropop as a genre while bringing Afropo into the present day.
I won’t say any more, but, as should be clear, I hope you will be able to enjoy this wonderful album for yourselves. This is likely going to be my most listened to album of the year (last year was Kraftwerk). It is exciting, new yet firmly rooted in my beloved Fela and brings one up at times when it is most needed.