The The

The The was an English art-pop band from London that released three albums on Epic between 1983 and 1989. The band was fronted by musician–songwriter Matt Johnson, who concurrently recorded in the avant–electro trio The Gadgets.

Members: Matt Johnson (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Keith Laws (keyboards, 1979-81), Tom Johnston (bass, 1980), Peter Ashworth (drums, 1980), Colin Lloyd Tucker (guitar, vocals, 1981), Simon Fisher Turner (guitar, vocals, 1981), David Palmer (drums, 1985-94), Johnny Marr (guitar, harmonica, 1988-94), James Eller (bass, 1988-94), D.C. Collard (keyboards, 1989-97)


Background

Mathew Johnson was born on August 15, 1961, in London and raised with three brothers on the East End. The Johnson family ran London’s Two Puddings pub, a popular ’60s venue on 27 Broadway, Stratford, E 15.

Matt built a demo studio inside the pub’s cellar. At age sixteen, he found studio work on London’s West End. His older brother Andrew (1959–2016) pursued record-sleeve design and production (under the moniker Andy Dog).

Johnson made initial attempts to form a band in 1977–78 through advertisements in the New Music Express. Inspired first by the Velvet Underground and Syd Barrett, he embraced The Residents and Throbbing Gristle by the time of his first demo album.


See Without Being Seen

In 1978, Matt Johnson hand-pressed See Without Being Seen, a cassette-album composed of seven experimental demos:

1. “Troops”
2. “Homa’s Coma”
3. “Planetarium”
4. “Spaceship In My Barn”
5. “Insect Children”
6. “My Vymura”
7. “Windowledge”

Johnson made several dozen cassette copies of See Without Being Seen and sold them at shows by his favorite acts (Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, Wire, This Heat).


1979–1980

In 1979, Johnson worked at De Wolfe Music, the Soho-based label and studio responsible for numerous library recordings, including 1970s instrumental albums by Karl Jenkins, Nick Ingman, Luis Vecchio, and Patrice Sciortino. He worked with De Wolfe studio colleague Colin Lloyd-Tucker on a proper album, Spirits, which went unreleased. The two worked subsequently in Lloyd-Tucker’s experimental band The Gadgets. Their first two albums, Gadgetree and Love, Curiosity, Freckles & Doubt, appeared in 1980 on the London small-press Final Solution.

Meanwhile, Johnson formed The The with keyboardist Keith Laws, who conceived the band name and played synthesizers and tapes. Johnson (vocals, guitar, electric piano) made backing tapes of drum and bass for their first show on May 11, 1979, at London’s Africa Centre, where the duo appeared third-billed to Scritti Politti and PragVEC.


“Controversial Subject”

In August 1980, The The made their vinyl debut with the single “Controversial Subject” backed with “Black and White,” both Johnson–Laws cuts produced by Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis, who recently formed Dome from the remnants of Wire.

A. “Controversial Subject” (2:50)
B. “Black and White” (3:24)

“Controversial Subject” appeared on 4AD, a recently established post-punk indie whose roster included Bauhaus, In Camera, Modern English, and Australian proto-goths The Birthday Party.

Though recorded by the duo of Matt Johnson and Keith Laws, the “Controversial Subject” back-sleeve also credits bassist Tom Johnston and drummer Peter Ashworth – the temporary The The rhythm section that soon left for careers in cartooning (Johnston) and photography (Ashworth).


1981

The The submitted an untitled song to the February 1981 release Some Bizzare Album, a compilation of unsigned electronic post-punk acts, including B-Movie (“Moles”), Blancmange (“Sad Day”), Depeche Mode (“Photographic”), and Soft Cell (“The Girl With the Patent Leather Face”). This was the inaugural release on the Some Bizzare label, which soon hit paydirt with the debut Soft Cell album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret.

The The signed to Some Bizzare for their second single. Concurrently, Matt John secured a solo deal with 4AD.


“Cold Spell Ahead”

On September 25, 1981, The The released the self-produced Some Bizarre single “Cold Spell Ahead,” a Johnson original backed with the Johnson–Laws “Hot Ice.”

A. “Cold Spell Ahead” (3:48)
B. “Hot Ice” (5:32)

“Cold Spell Ahead” appeared as the fourth Some Bizarre 7″ (BZS 4) between the second and third Soft Cell singles: “Tainted Love” and “Bedsitter.”

Laws departed the music scene to study cognitive science. Johnson retained The The as a band moniker for his solo projects.

Meanwhile, a track from the vaulted Spirits album (“What Stanley Saw”) appeared on the October 1981 compilation Perspectives and Distortion, released on Cherry Red with cuts by Robert Fripp (“Remorse of Conscience”), Thomas Leer (“King of Sham”), Eyeless In Gaza (“You Frighten”), The Lemon Kittens (“…In Wooden Brackets”), The Virgin Prunes (“Third Secret”), ex-MorganMott keyboardist Morgan Fisher (“Foreign Correspondent”), Alternative TV mastermind Mark Perry (“Dear Dear”), and future Everything But the Girl mainstay Ben Watt (“Departure”).


Burning Blue Soul

Matt Johnson released a solo album, Burning Blue Soul, in September 1981 on 4AD. It features ten self-performed originals. This was his first-released but third-recorded solo album after the 1978 demo cassette See Without Being Seen and the unreleased 1979 De Wolfe recording Spirits. Later reissues credit Burning Blue Soul as a The The album.

1. “Red Cinders in the Sand” (5:42)
2. “Song Without an Ending” (4:35)
3. “Time (Again) for the Golden Sunset” (3:51)
4. “Icing Up” (7:36)
5. “(Like a) Sun Rising Through My Garden” (5:01)
6. “Out of Control” (2:01)
7. “Bugle Boy” (2:27)
8. “Delirious” (3:33)
9. “The River Flows East in Spring” (3:33)
10. “Another Boy Drowning” (5:53)

In late 1981, Johnson toured as The The with Gadgets bandmate Colin Lloyd-Tucker and former child actor Simon Fisher-Turner, who recently formed the experimental duo Deux Filles.


1982

In 1982, Matt Johnson recorded The Pornography of Despair, the intended debut The The album. Though he never mixed the vaulted album, he purportedly distributed cassette copies among friends.> Despite the album’s non-release, its sessions account for five eventual b-sides: “Mental Healing Process,” “Leap into The Wind,” “Absolute Liberation,” “The Nature of Virtue,” and “Three Orange Kisses from Kazan.” Two Despair tracks (“Waitin’ for the Upturn,” “Fruit of the Heart”) appear on select versions of the proper debut The The album, which features a re-recording of “The Sinking Feeling.”

1. “Three Orange Kisses from Kazan” (4:31) b-side of the original “Uncertain Smile”
2 .”The Nature of Virtue” (3:49) b-side of “Perfect”
3. “Mental Healing Process” (3:43) b-side of “This Is the Day.”
4. “Absolute Liberation” (4:23) track D on “This Is the Day” double-pack.
5. “Dumb as Death’s Head” (4:44) released as the a-side of a May 1983 flexi-disc in Melody Maker.
6. “Screw Up Your Feelings” remade as “Perfect,” a UK single re-recorded for a bonus 12″ included with Soul Mining (included on international versions of the album).
7. “Waitin’ for the Upturn” (4:30) included on the expanded Euro cassette version of Soul Mining.
8. “Leap Into the Wind” (4:49) track C on “This Is the Day” double-pack.
9. “Fruit of the Heart” (1:58) included on cassette and Oceanic vinyl Soul Mining copies.
10. “Soup of Mixed Emotions” (4:04) included on the UK bonus 12″ of the re-recorded “Perfect.”
11. “The Sinking Feeling” (4:07) re-recorded for Soul Mining.

Johnson held a month-long residency at London’s Marquee Club billed “An evening of Rock n Roll with The The.” The four weekly concerts featured Soft Cell frontman Marc Almond on guitar and vocals.


“Uncertain Smile”

On October 8, 1982, The The released “Uncertain Smile,” a revamped version of “Cold Spell Ahead” backed with “Three Orange Kisses from Kazan,” a song from the vaulted Pornography of Despair.

A. “Uncertain Smile” (4:55) features Matt Johnson on 12-string Rickenbacker, Fender Precision bass, and a a Roland TR-808 drum machine. Producer Mike Thorne (Wire, The Shirts, Berlin Blondes, Urban Verbs) added Synclavier-sampled strings and called in Uptown Horns flutist–saxophonist Crispin Cloe.
B. “Three Orange Kisses from Kazan” (4:31) features erstwhile collaborator Keith Laws (melodica) and Marc & The Mambas saxist–flutist Steve James Sherlock.

Johnson recorded “Uncertain Smile” in May 1982 with Thorne, who produced this and the following single at Mediasound Studio in New York City, which Matt twice-visited on all-expenses trips coordinated by Some Bizzare founder Stevo Pearce.


1983


“Perfect”

On February 11, 1983, The The released the standalone UK a-side “Perfect,” a revamped version of the Pornography of Despair track “Screw Up Your Feelings” backed with “The Nature of Virtue,” a salvaged track from the aborted 1982 album.

A. “Perfect” (4:11) features jazz trumpeter Harry Beckett and harmonica by ex-New York Doll David Johansen. harmonica on “Perfect.” Matt Johnson drew lyrical inspiration from a road trip to Detroit between the single’s NYC sessions.
B. “The Nature of Virtue (Version 1)” (3:48)

Johnson recorded “Perfect” in October 1982 and Mediasound with Thorne. However, Johnson abandoned plans to record a full album in New York, Thorne’s current base of operation. Back in London, engineer Paul Hardiman (a onetime Thorne assistant) remixed the song over Chistmas.


Soul Mining

The The released its first album, Soul Mining, on October 21, 1983, on Epic and Some Bizzare. It features a re-recorded version of the autumn 1982 a-side “Uncertain Smile” with ex-Squeeze keyboardist Jools Holland, whose piano replaces the original sax part.

The original UK vinyl release contains seven songs (41:51), including the lead single “This Is the Day” and the lengthy closing epic “Giant.” In Oceania, Epic appended each side with an additional song: the Pornography of Despair miniature “Fruit of the Heart” and a re-recorded “Perfect” (also found on North American copies.)

Matt Johnson plays synthesisers, percussion, and assorted sundries on Soul Mining, which features seven guest players and four recurrent backing musicians. Three songs (“I’ve Been Waitin’ for Tomorrow,” “The Twilight Hour,” “Giant”) feature Central Line bassist Camelle G. Hinds, Orange Juice drummer Zeke Manyika, and minimal-synth pioneer Thomas Leer. Hinds also plays on “Uncertain Smile” and “Perfect” along with drummer Andy Duncan, a prolific sessionist (Linx, Strange Behaviour, The Planets, Toyah) who also plays on “This Is the Day” and the title track.

1. “I’ve Been Waitin’ for Tomorrow (All of My Life)” (5:45)
2. “This Is the Day” (5:01) features Scottish fiddlist Paul Boyle and session accordionist Paul Wickens (aka Wix), who also appears on one track (“My Wild Love”) on The Golden Section, the 1983 third solo album by former Ultravox frontman John Foxx.
3. “The Sinking Feeling” (3:44) features ex-Live Wire bassist Jeremy Meek.
4. “Uncertain Smile” (6:52) Jools plays the Yamaha C3 baby grand piano outro, which Johnson edited together from two solos (Holland thought his part would appear in the mid-section).
5. “Fruit of the Heart” (1:57)
6. “The Twilight Hour” (5:58) features Mambas–Glove string players Martin McCarrick (cello) and Anne Stephenson (violin).
7. “Soul Mining” (4:50)
8. “Giant” (9:36) features chanting by co-producer Paul Hardiman and sticks by Frank Want (the current alias of Australian musician Jim Thirlwell, aka Foetus).
9. “Perfect” (5:36)

Apart from the 1982 “Uncertain Smile” recording at New York’s Mediasound, sessions spanned the first half of 1983 at The Garden, a studio in East London’s Shoreditch district built by John Foxx and also used for The Golden Section and 1982–93 titles by Antena, Bill Nelson, Clock DVA, Depeche Mode, Fad Gadget, The Passions, and Tuxedomoon. Additional work tool place at London’s Advision and SARM studios.

Soul Mining sports cover art by Matt’s brother Andy Johnson, whose images depict a wife of Nigerian music icon Feli Kuti (front) and Matt distressed and blue-faced under a hammer (back). Matt’s then-girlfriend, graphic designer Fiona Skinner, typographed the letters and band logo. The inner-sleeve contains hand-scrawled lyrics.

On September 2, Some Bizarre lifted an edit of “This Is the Day” (3:42) as the lead single backed with the Pornography of Despair track “Mental Healing Process.” The single also appeared as a double-pack with two additional Despair tracks: “Leap Into the Wind” and “Absolute Liberation.” An alternate 12″ single features an extended “This Is the Day” (5:22) and a special elongated mix of “I’ve Been Waitin’ for Tomorrow (All of My Life)” (7:36).

Three Orange Kisses from Kazan” (4:27)
The Nature of Virtue” (5:50)
Mental Healing Process” (3:45)

In the video to “This Is the Day,” a leather-jacketed Matt walks forth amid shifting–panning green screens. He also made a video to “I’ve Been Waitin’ for Tomorrow (All of My Life),” which takes places in a dark-lit room adorned with three-dimensional H.R. Giger art.

The album’s first UK issue (cat. # XPR 1250) included a free 12″ with the re-recorded “Perfect,” backed with “Fruit of the Heart” and the Despair rarity “Soup of Mixed Emotions.”

B2. “Soup of Mixed Emotions” (4:04)

In Europe, Epic also issued Soul Mining as a thirteen-track cassette (67:51) with all nine songs from the Oceanic LP plus the three Despair tracks from the “This Is the Day” double-pack and a fourth Despair rarity, “Waitin’ for the Upturn.”

Waitin’ for the Upturn” (4:30) features “Three Oranges” guest reedist Steve James Sherlock (sax and flute)

In November, Some Bizarre released the re-recorded “Uncertain Smile” as a second single (b/w “Soul Mining”).

Soul Mining reached the Top 20 in the Netherlands (No. 14) and New Zealand (No. 16) and peaked within the Top 30 in Canada (No. 22) and the UK (No. 27).


Infected

The The released their second album, Infected, on November 17, 1986, on Epic and Some Bizzare.

1. “Infected” (4:49)
2. “Out of the Blue (Into the Fire)” (5:10)
3. “Heartland” (5:01)
4. “Angels of Deception” (4:37)
5. “Sweet Bird of Truth” (5:22)
6. “Slow Train to Dawn” (4:14)
7. “Twilight of a Champion” (4:22) music: Johnson, Roli Mosimann
8. “The Mercy Beat” (7:22)

4 August 1986
A: “Heartland”
B: “Born In The New S.A.”

12″
A1: Heartland
B1: “Flesh and Bones”
B2: Born In The New S.A.
C1: Perfect
D1: Fruit Of The Heart

13 October 1986
A: “Infected”
B: “Disturbed”

12 January 1987
A. “Slow Train To Dawn”
B. “Harbour Lights”

11 May 1987
A: “Sweet Bird of Truth”
B: “Sleeping Juice”


Mind Bomb

The The released their third album, Mind Bomb, on July 11, 1989, on Epic.

1. “Good Morning, Beautiful” (7:28)
2. “Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)” (5:40)
3. “The Violence of Truth” (5:40)
4. “Kingdom of Rain” (5:51)
5. “The Beat(en) Generation” (3:04)
6. “August & September” (5:45)
7. “Gravitate to Me” (8:09) Johnson, Johnny Marr
8. “Beyond Love” (4:22)


Discography:

  • Soul Mining (1983)
  • Infected (1986)
  • Mind Bomb (1989)

Sources:

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