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THE THE Radio Cineola Trilogy   Print  E-mail 
Written by Mark Reed  
Monday, 23 October 2017

Daddy, What Did You Do For 17 Years?

Where the heck has Matt Johnson been? 17 long years since his last song-based, major release, 17 long years which has seen many of his fans move from youth to clear late middle-age, and Matt Johnson releases his first major statement in far too long, backed up with the first live shows from his band in 16 years. And though, on the surface, this 3CD set is promising, it is also a canny, almost cynical way of completely avoiding his talents and expectations.

In many ways, this release is a complete statement of defiance against your own muse. The first CD, “The End Of The Day” is a selection of cover versions of old The The songs (stretching back to 1981), all sensitively interpreted – but also a continuation of an idea of replacing b-sides with covers that The The first launched unsuccessfully in 1999. The interpretations are well handled – but none add stunning new light onto the originals, nor do they better any of the originals. And, perhaps most obviously, 2011's re-recording of “Giant” with DJ Food, and 2007's “Mrs Mac” are both absent. Thankfully, the one new The The song in the past decade - “You Can't Stop What's Coming” is here. And it's quite OK, but not a stunning new classic that you will cling to forever as a work of godlike genius.

CD2 is “The Inertia Variations”, a 70-part, 43 minute spoken word piece that sees Matt narrate a poem by John Tottenham with unusual sound effects. It is quite, quite indulgent. Possibly the kind of thing that even Kate Bush or Scott Walker would reject as unwise. Presumably taken from the documentary film about Matt's inability to ever do anything for decades on end whilst he eats, sleeps, and generally behaves in a way that is oblivious to his talents and abilities, it is quite simply a listen-once-and-not-again release. Perhaps I'm being harsh, but I have to be a lot more productive in my own life than lie down and contemplate my navel for 17 years at a time, and the music contained here (and on CD3) are really the sound of the somewhat aimless instrumental meanderings that would make a 2-minute b-side on the back of a 1986 12”. It's almost insensitive to glory in the ability to be so utterly inert. Now, whilst everyone creative has a degree of inertia, or writers block, of being unable to force what must flow naturally, this second CD is utterly annoying given how hard everyone else has to work. From a philosophical perspective, I have no issues with a well earned rest, but with just six albums (and at least three unreleased ones) in the first 20 years, and just two songs in the past 17, it seems craven and oblivious to the world which The The exist in.

CD3 is “Midday to Midnight”, which compiles some 36 instrumental themes (over 52 minutes) that Johnson has worked on, and again, is the sound of The The utterly missing the point. As a band, The The is the creative extension of Johnson's identity, and yet, Johnson has become largely featureless. (The band released three soundtrack albums between 2011-2014, and a private pressing of instrumental film music in 2002 : effectively absenting themselves from their arena). In many ways, The The could have been contenders : they could have been as culturally relevant and active as many of their then peers – at one point, neck and neck with The Smiths, New Order, Depeche Mode – but instead chose to abdicate responsibility.

This release won't restore that loss, but instead restate - and show perhaps too clearly – that few acts have suffered such a visible and obvious commercial and artistic decline through inactivity and indulgence. Even a long, long overdue reissue programme appears to have come to naught : The The haven't even bothered with a responsible and comprehensive reissue programme of past work to 'fill the gaps', issue long lost VHS tapes on DVD, and scoop up the lost and obscure b-sides once released on a 1983 flexidisc attached to Record Mirror.

There's hope of course, that The The could stun and wow with next years live shows, and perhaps even, Johnson could remove his muse from his rear end and deliver a set of songs and play them live ; hardly the most demanding of hopes, but I don't hold out much for it.

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