What is "pop" music? How do you define it? Is
pop music simply, "that music which a lot of people like"? Or
is it more than that? When i say "The The are a damned fine
pop band" i am implying that their purpose is to write catchy
songs that portray a snippet of human emotionality within the
context of a narrative story told in 4/4 time. At least, that's
That said, The The are a damned fine pop band. One of my favorites
ever, in fact. Soul Mining was the first CD i
purchased, back when i upgraded from cassette to CD in the late
80's! So i have a long history with this band.
45 RPM is a sort of "greatest hits" collection.
Not that The The have ever really dominated the Billboard Top
40 in this country. What it really is, is a collection of singles
released over the years, with two brand new tunes at the end.
To spice things up, some of the songs are different versions
than what you are most likely familiar with. For example, things
start off with Uncertain Smile, a tune off of Soul
Mining which is a personal favorite. However, this mix
is ... different. Supposedly this is the "original version",
and here Matt Johnson layers cheesey synthesized horns over
the song in place of the wonderful piano work on the "album
version". It's really different, and at first, i was really
turned off by it. But it grew on me. I still think that it is
a little weaker than the album version, but it's an interesting
In total, 45 RPM tears through 13 The The classics
from all of their numerous albums. Some of the tracks chosen
are not necessarily my pick off of a given album, but what are
you gonna do?
The great thing about these songs is that even though many
of them are from the 80's, they really stand up to the test
of time. Sure, there are bits that seem dated (such as the cheesey
1986 sampled drum beat that starts Infected), but the
overall strength of the rhythms, Johnson's forceful singing,
and the wonderfully hummable melodies all make the music as
alive today as it was back then.
I still listen to a lot of 80's music. I still like it. But
i can admit that, say, Erasure is very outdated. The Smiths
are too, to a certain degree. But not The The. There is a difference
there that i cannot explain really. Of course, it is entirely
possible that i am, as Malimus would say, simply "being
a fanboy". I really thing that Matt Johnson (who is the
only constant in The The's many incarnations) has a real talent
for writing catchy songs.
He also is capable of writing a song with political content
that doesn't come across as cheesey and overtly preachy. For
example, Armageddon Days (Are Here Again) could be an
intolerably cheesey tune. It starts off with Johnson calling
on Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed to lend him some back-up vocals.
But it's toe-tapping rhythm and dramatic choruses make the song
really work. Johnson's deep voice belts out his message of the
stupidity of religous intolerance without seeming to beat you
over the head with it. In fact, if you are bothered by the political
content you can just ride the rollercoaster of the rhythm on
It seems to me that a lot of "politically active music" seems
to be well, cheesey. I am not gonna name names here, but there
are lots of examples. It's as if many people think that having
a song that is about "real things" means that it doesn't need
a melody: they count on the poltically charged lyrical content
to carry it through. Billy Bragg is (usually) good about not
doing this. So is Matt Johnson: his songs tend to be about real
subjects, but he always tries to find a catchy melody to put
with his politics.
And that's the secret people: writing political songs doesn't
mean that you can skimp on the actual musical content. It's
a "political song": both words carry equal weight.
Okay, one last comment on this issue: Johnson's politics seem
to hold up over time. He has a song about religous war in the
Middle East (Armageddon Days (Are Here Again)), a song
about American Imperialism (Sweet Bird of Truth), and
the most telling political tune on the disc: Heartland.
This tune is off of 1986's Infected album, so
it is full of New Wave dance beats. But it ends with Londoner
Johnson singing over and over "This is the 51st state of the
USA". If he felt like that in the 80's -- i wonder how he feels
The political issues that Matt Johnson sings about are still
important. That either means that he is a very wise person who
can see right to the heart of our culture's diseases, or that
we are not making any progress at all. I am not sure which is
That said -- if you are a diehard The The fan you have heard
these tunes before. The "different mixes" strewn about make
this collection essential for collector geeks. And then there
are the new tunes. They are called Pillar Box Red and
Deep Down Truth.
Pillar Box Red is a slow, largely acoustic number that
feels as if it would have been at home on Nakedself,
the most recent The The album. It's a decent song, with a nicely
done harpsichord sample that lends the proceedings a melancholic
and reflective air. Deep Down Truth, on the other hand,
is a The The rocker like those that filled Nakedself.
Here Johnson is strumming an acoustic, and backed up by a female
voice. The drums thud and the lead guitar wails. It's a good
However, in all honesty, i am not so sure that either song
would have made the "greatest hits album" had they not been
the "previously unreleased" songs tacked on at the end. That
is to say, while neither song is weak, neither of them is an
instant classic either. They are average tunes.
My overall verdict is this: if you are a The The fan you need
this collection for the unreleased tracks and strange versions
of familiar tunes. If you are a casual The The fan (say, you
have heard Dusk, their most commercially successful
album in the US), or you are one of those poor souls who haven't
listened to The The yet, then this is a great introduction to
their catalog, showcasing many wonderful tunes and offering
plenty of opportunity to learn which albums to explore in more
depth. (I suppose that a fourth type of person would be "those
who do not like The The" but i have never met anyone who falls
into this category. Primarily because, well, it's inconcievable.
They would be wrong, and such people have probably long since
been bred out of our gene pool.)
Matt Johnson rules.