Review Summary: Just another western guy with desires that he can't satisfy
Prior to Infected Matt Johnson sounded like a typical introverted bedroom artist, his lyrics never seemed to escape the confines of his own skull and his songs told stories of loneliness, solitude and frustration. The distinctly minimal musical backing he used to colour around these predominantly hushed and awkward vocals only served to further reinforce this impression. Fast forward to 1986 and something monumental has happened, with the release of Infected Johnson changes tack entirely, here he sounds unrestrained, brimming with confidence and hungry to broaden his horizons. It’s as if he'd suddenly stumbled on not only his bus pass to travel around his native London but also his passport as his lyrical focus and musical palette have a newfound global sweep to them. What he sees with this new perspective clearly invigorates, depresses and terrifies him in equal measure; make no mistake Infected is an album with a lot to say.
The lyrics are so wide ranging on Infected it's hard to know where to start, they manage to be both unmistakably a product of their age and yet at the same time almost unbelievably universal in their appeal. A few themes stand out as particularly prominent; how sin manifests itself in the individual and society at large, the slow death of religious faith and resultant lack of direction and fulfilment felt by the western populace and the creeping decay of Great Britain and its empire, though in truth these are only the tip of the iceberg. Some of Johnson’s lyrics have proven to be particularly prescient, most notably ‘Sweet Bird of Truth’s’ horrifying account of a doomed 'GI Joe' comparing his lack of faith to the unshakable belief displayed by his enemies goes straight to the heart of the West’s mistrust and fear of the Middle East. Elsewhere we find bankers screwing up the economy (‘Heartland’), the rich getting richer (‘Twilight of a Champion’) and wars being fought for money (‘Angels of Deception’) just in case we foolishly believed the world would ever change.
All the above could make listening to Infected sound as appealing as watching a newsreel for 45 minutes so it’s important to emphasise just how alive this record sounds. Every song has a feeling of motion and adventure to it, with unexpected musical curveballs at every turn. Johnson is a consummate storyteller whether taking us on a trip to the seedy side of town to secure the services of a prostitute ('Out of the Blue') or inviting us to join him on a ‘dark night of the soul’ road trip ('The Mercy Beat'). The music constantly shifts to its surrounding with bursts of horns, synths or even what sound like bongo drums on 'Sweet Bird of Truth', in each case these choices are well selected. However Infected’s musical ace in the hole are the female vocals that make an appearance on almost every song shifting perspectives from lovers (Neneh Cherry adds lead vocals for a duet with Johnson on 'Slow Train to Dawn'), prostitutes or angels begging the question as to whether they all amount to the same influence here.
The The would go on to record three subsequent albums, all interesting in their own right, though none could truly compete with this album’s fierce focus and unparalleled inventiveness.
Also: Infected is one of very few albums to have had a video recorded for each track, they're well worth checking out too.