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 smileI’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.