Dusting Off... The The's Infected
What is it?
With a permanent membership count of just one, The The are contenders for the title of 'world's smallest band', but founder and main man Matt Johnson creates a sound that is anything but. The leader of a band whose rolling cast of members has included Johnny Marr and ex-David Bowie bassist Gail Ann Dorsey, Johnson has spent the last three decades making some of the most singular and challenging pop music to grace the airwaves, enjoying the best part of his career both artistically and commercially during the 1980s.
His first album under the band's name was 1983's Soul Mining, earning Johnson and his not-so-merry band of musicians a Top 40 album, but it was their sophomore effort, 1986's Infected, that really consolidated The The's reputation as an out-there-on-it's-own entity. This was unmistakably pop music, but it was somehow altogether more menacing and tortured than some of its chart-friendly counterparts.
The album's first single, 'Heartland', is a good example. Its chorus-drenched guitars and jazzy, cheerfully-dispositioned pianos belie the song's brooding lyrics as Johnson describes his walk home “past the saturday morning cinema that lies crumbling to the ground / and a piss-stinking shopping centre on a new side of town”. Much like many songs by The Smiths, the juxtaposition between the music and the downtrodden, disillusioned message in Infected's lyrical content is a stark contrast.
Highlights on the album include the throbbing, synth-driven funk of 'Sweet Bird Of Truth' and the jangling 'Slow Train to a Dawn', but the album's real standout is its title track. A maelstrom of hammer-like drum machines and percussion layered with icy synths and soulful vocals, 'Infected' smashes you in the face with the sheer pristine clarity of its production and worked even better on the dancefloor as it did on the radio.
Why should I revisit?
Although the two subsequent albums Mind Bomb and Dusk achieved better charts success, Infected is the sound of Johnson accomplishing his potential for the first time and it's a reminder of just how broad the spectrum of what is considered pop music used to be. Its hard to imagine a record like this being a success in today's climate, but that's more an indictment of just how narrow the current pop landscape has become than anything to do with Johnson's abilities as a songwriter and producer. It's as clean and crisp as any pop record you'll hear from that era, but Infected is anything but the shallow 80s pop you'd associate with the likes of the Stock, Aitken and Waterman production team that did so much to define the decade's sound.
Who will enjoy it?
It has to be said, this is a record that's very much of its time, but if you're into all things 80s and fancy something with a little bit of a darker edge, this might be right up your street.