Some facts about today's NW4NW band, requested by my brother Marcus to begin NW4NW All Request Month:
- They've had as many as five band members...and as few as one.
- Their music runs from moody synthpop to energetic dance to message-driven protest - and they've done a full album of Hank Williams covers.
- They have as many fully recorded albums that have remained unreleased as they have had released.
- Their first album was not credited to the band until it was reissued three years later; their second album was never officially released. Their third album, then, is considered their debut LP.
- When their founding musician placed ads to recruit like-minded bandmates, he listed musical influences including The Velvet Underground, Syd Barret, The Residents and Throbbing Gristle.
Beginning as duo with synth player/tape manipulation artist Keith Laws in May of 1979, The The began performing live and recording some experimental tracks. Within a year they added a drummer and bass player, and by 1981 had their first single out, "Controversial Subject." All four members were credited on the single, but in reality it had only been Johnson and Laws in the studio. They soon found themselves a duo again.
Laws was finding less available time to devote to The The, as his focus was on completing school. Around this time, the album Burning Blue Soul appeared. Because Johnson had recorded all of the vocals and instruments himself, the label credited the album solely to Matt Johnson. But Laws wasn't completely gone yet - he and Johnson recorded another single as The The, and Johnson argued that Soul was, in fact, a The The record. (Upon it's reissue in 1983, Burning Blue Soul was finally credited to The The.)
The duo recorded an album's worth of material for a proper The The debut, which was slated to be titled The Pornography of Despair, but they were unhappy with the results and never took it to the mixing stage. Laws went his own way, and Johnson cobbled together a collection of introspective, mid-tempo synth tunes which would become the "official" The The debut, Soul Mining. Containing cuts like "Uncertain Smile" and "This Is The Day," the album staked out The The's turf among the synthpop bands of the early '80s - a turf that Johnson would almost immediately abandon.
Three years after Soul Mining, Johnson was back with Infected. This time around, he wasn't the moody synth guy. Infected was much heavier and harder, bringing to mind a more commercially-minded Jim "Foetus" Thirlwell. The title track became something of an underground/college radio hit, and everyone wondered what Matt Johnson would pull out of his bag of tricks next.
Well, how about making The The a "supergroup" of sorts? Recruiting David Palmer (who had played drums in the band ABC), James Eller (a bass player who had recorded with Julian Cope, among others), and Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, Johnson now had a full band and set about recording what would be the high-water mark for The The, 1988's Mind Bomb. A stunning work that boasts "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" and "The Beat(en) Generation" as highlights, it is an album not to be missed.
Adding a keyboard player, making The The a quintet, a period of touring followed Mind Bomb. In fact, it would be 1993 before the band's next album, Dusk, appeared. It's lead single, "Dogs Of Lust," was well received, but not much else memorable came from its grooves. After Dusk, Marr and Eller left the band, and the remaining members took one of the most unexpected steps in any band's history: Hanky Panky was released in 1995, and consisted of eleven covers of Hank Williams songs. Five years later, Johnson was back again with an entirely new line-up, and released NakedSelf, which is, to date, the final The The album. However, as long as there is Matt Johnson, there will be The The.
So, to fill the first request of 2010's NW4NW All Request Month, here are two classics from The The. First, the clip for "This Is The Day" from The The's days as a one-man-show; then, The The as a full band featured in a fan-made clip for "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" Thank you, Marcus, for your request!