The sobriquet “Genius” is oft bandied about, and is de valued for it but when referring to this collision of the ideas and lyrics of Matt Johnson, and the musicianship of Johnny Marr that occurred in the Autumn of 1988, it seems genuinely appropriate, and flows naturally into the thoughts of the listener of this, The The’s fourth studio record Mind Bomb.
The true genius of "Mind Bomb" isn’t just that phrase or just that one song; it’s the overall context into which the album descends. "Mind Bomb" reaches into God, Religion, Politics and Love with a frankness that is almost mind numbing.
These songs are not for the uninvolved, and I have always used The The as an example of how my generation "got it" with respect to the direction our society was taking.
Well, how could we not? The Cold War, the Miners Strike and going into the second decade of the most wretched and cruel Government even by Tory standards defined my life at the time, freshly graduated when it really meant something, just married and about to embark on a career in teaching. It was clear to me, even it wasn’t to Ruth Kelly, which way things were going and we could either be ambivalent or fight back whichever way possible through the Labour Party and groups such as Youth Against Racism in Europe and the Stephen Lawrence campaign.
It easy to be cynical and say we were wasting our time. But I disagree and believe the agenda for so called New Labour was set in those times as we woke up to the fact that we would have to box clever regarding the Tory Press, and if that meant taking into regard the Middle Class Daily Mail demographic then it was a good thing, as Socialism is about delivering for the many and not just the few be it the elite for the Tories or the urban working class poor for the Labour Party.
But it often felt like we never get the Tories out again, and successive defeats in 1987 and especially 1992 were a real kick in balls as I just could never understand how anyone, let alone 14 million people could ever vote Tory.
The The encapsulate those times and Infected (1986) with the sweeping post industrial cityscape that is evoked by Heartland, where “the heart is being cut from the Welfare State” and “It ain’t written in the papers but it’s written on the walls, the way this country’s divided to fall” made a particular impact on me, but in Mind Bomb Johnson’s true skill is to blend geo political issues with the depth and intensity of human relationships in a collage of sweaty sexual desire and poignancy, against the backdrop world upheaval.
This from The Violence of Truth,
What is evil? What is love?
What is the force that possesses us?
Where is the beauty? Where is the truth?
Where is the force that watches over you?
And while the niggers of this world are starving
with their mouths wide open
What is it that turns the coins we throw at them
into worthless little tokens?
But it is the stunning prescience of Johnson’s vision of the clash of Islam with the West that takes the breath away. Whilst the USA and Britain were busy doing dodgy deals with Saddam and funding Bin Laden and his fanatics is Afghanistan due to the obsession with Communism, Matt was looking to East and not liking what was on the horizon, whilst at the same time recognising the culpability of the West for creating the economic situation that allows extremism to take root.
Islam is rising
The Christians mobilising
The world is on its elbows and knees
It’s forgotten the message and worships the creeds
The lyrics however, are set to Marr’s quintessential upbeat jangly sound to produce commentary laced with hope.
If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
He’d be gunned down cold by the C.I.A.
Oh, the lights that now burn brightest behind stained glass
Will cast the darkest shadows upon the human heart
But God didn’t build himself that throne
God doesn’t live in Israel or Rome
God doesn’t belong to the Yankee dollar
God doesn’t plant the bombs for Hezbollah
God doesn’t even go to church
And God won’t send us down to Allah to burn
No, God will remind us what we already know
That the human race is about to reap what it’s sown
This record, bare in mind was penned in 1988. TWENTY YEARS AGO! Matt Johnson must be George Orwell re incarnated as this song may as well have been about the Israel’s squalid and murderous butchery during the ill-fated 2006 Lebanon War.
But the “Beat(en) Generation” is the icing on the cake regarding prophecy.
And our youth, oh youth, are being seduced
By the greedy hands of politics and half truths
We’re being sedated by the gasoline fumes
And hypnotised by the satellites
Into believing what is good and what is right"
Watch status quo election campaigning, a failed foreign policy and our staggering dependence on oil and explain how this album is still not relevant almost 20 years later.
The The have been infuriatingly inactive and I assume the band is now dead, having only released a very limited amount of material since 1992 and the Dusk album.
Please come back again, Matt Johnson, you still have a lot more to share.