By early ’84 I’d moved in to a flat with Simon & Gary, two other music obsessives. My social group was expanding, my social life was becoming highly interesting, and as much as Snu-Peas was my go to shop for records, Bizarre Bazaar was equally frequented for second-hand vintage clobber. With new friends came new influences, and one of us would have been the first to obsess about The The, and in particular two of the band’s early singles, This Is The Day and Uncertain Smile.
Whilst the 2-Tone and post-punk scene had all but gone, a few bands emerged which kept my interest in new music on high alert. The Smiths, Orange Juice and Aztec Camera’s fantastic High Land, Hard Rain were heavily played, and topping those for sheer magnificence and, eclectic, claustrophobic and intense beauty was The The’s Soul Mining. The album was full of new sounds; some repetitive, almost Balearic beats were way ahead of their time, others were more like an industrial take on electronic synth-pop.
Musically kaleidoscopic, this album really opened my ears and pushed me into unfamiliar sounds, and lyrically too, it was deeper, darker and more uncomfortable than much of what I’d heard before. I could though, comfortably listen to Uncertain Smile forever, and doing so nearly forty years later I’m taken straight back to my unrestrained excitement and insecurities. Matt Johnson’s fragile, breathy vocals, and unique storytelling mixed with the lush production and epic, extended piano outro by Jools Holland make this an absolute masterpiece.
“Peeling the skin back from my eyes, I felt surprised
that the time on the clock was the time I usually retired
to the place where I cleared my head of you;
but just for today, I think I’ll lie here and dream of you.”
The The released Infected and Mind Bomb in the second half of the eighties, both albums brilliant, and both made Matt Johnson one of my all-time favourite lyricists. Perfectly scathing of Thatcher and the consumerist west, his cynicism and anger enhanced my views on many things whilst opening me up to others.
On Soul Mining there were strong hints of what was to come: “I’m just a symptom of the moral decay / That’s gnawing at the heart of the country” – The Sinking Feeling. But, within an album of provocative new sounds and musical eccentricity it was Uncertain Smile and This Is The Day that soothed my ears and caressed my soul. Essential listening for anyone with a heart.