Review Summary: Completely cuckoo
I'm not a massive fan of track by track reviews but what we have here is a very strange album that most definitely lends itself to the format due to each song being very much its own individual bizarro world. With 'Mind Bomb' Johnson had reached that stage some artists get to where they've successfully created their own distinct musical universe and as a result slowly lose touch with outside influence and convention; they start to get lost within this strange place of their own invention, sometimes chewing up and cannibalising their own work, taking a tumble down the rabbit hole and ending up gawd knows where. For the uninitiated this album must be barely comprehensible and most likely downright off-putting with its odd quirks and heavy handed feel.
Good Morning Beautiful
This track welcomes us into 'Mind Bomb' with what sounds like a call to prayer before horns and harmonica decide to answer back, blending with the voice in a strange intoxicating brew. Where on Earth are we you might ask. Two minutes pass before Johnson graces us with any vocals, finally he softly sings 'I know God lives in everybody's souls and the only devil in your world lives in the human heart' and the agenda is set; his sights are firmly fixed on religion and sin. This song plays out like a seven minute extended intro to the album, Johnson delivering line after line of fire and brimstone lyrics washed in echos and creepy effects; it works well here as an opener and is undeniably bonkers.
Armageddon Days are Here (Again)
An ominous chorus of voices herald the start of Armageddon, one of the most distinctive songs in the entire The The catalogue. This one does exactly what it says on the tin and predicts the end of humanity will be brought about through holy war. A skipping drum beat starts up before the band respond to Johnson introducing them as Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed in turn...'well alright fellas, let's go!' The song has a cheeky feel despite the brutally grim subject matter, the chorus of 'Islam is rising, the Christians mobilising' sounding more Disney Aladdin than truly terrifying. The lyrics pull no punches however with the assertion that 'you'll watch your ships sail out the harbour...and the bodies come floating back'; I'd love to say that this song's subject matter has lost its impact twenty five years on but let's be honest if anything it rings truer than ever.
The Violence of Truth
This track sees the return of Marr's harmonica added to some swirling guitar licks while Johnson takes on authoritarian institutions and in particular religion once again comes under his fierce scrutiny as he warns to beware 'the dangers of obedience' claiming 'God is the force that possesses us'. The lack of a conventional chorus makes this song somewhat of a slippery customer and it serves more as a bridge between its two neighbours.
Kingdom of Rain
'Mind Bomb' now takes a turn towards more personal subject matter and this number could even be described as a love song, though it should be emphasised this is a particularly bleak and depressing one. Sinead O'Connor joins Johnson for a duet, the two trading bitterly sad accusations at one another. This is certainly not one to dig out for your romantic anniversary evening, the chorus of 'our bed is empty, the fire is out and all the love we got to give has all spurted out' is a passion killer if ever I've heard one. Sinead in particular goes in for the kill here with lines like 'when you put your hands inside me it doesn't even feel like I'm being touched'; ouch, feel the burn. The track remains a standout, it's late night sombre vibe perfectly reflecting the song title.
The Beat(en) Generation
In an attempt at track sequencing convention Johnson thankfully places the album's most upbeat offering after the previous misery-fest. This song skips along with an addictive jangly guitar line and yet more harmonica, the vocals are the closest to sing along as you're going to find on 'Mind Bomb'. Here Johnson pictures a lost generation blinded by 'prejudice and misinformation'. The song has a hopeful tone despite lyrically falling into the rant bracket once again and serves as the album's palette cleanser.
August & September
Not only the strongest track on this release, 'August & September' has to go down as one of Johnson's greatest ever songs. It has a loose and jazzy feel with woodwind and stand-up bass featuring prominently. The lyrics are a self loathing masterclass focusing on the various trials of a dysfunctional relationship with the realisation 'was our love too strong to die or were we just too weak to kill it' emerging from the depths like a nuclear submarine ready to annihilate all lingering hope.
Gravitate to Me
This is the longest song on the album weighing in at a lengthy eight minutes and in all honesty it doesn't justify the runtime. The track does neatly reference Johnson's early work with the electronic influence emerging after the two minute mark but compared to the material on 'Soul Mining' this is perfunctory at best. The lyrics also make minimal impact here thanks to some uncharacteristically uninspired vocal melodies.
The album ends with a meditation on the nature of the connection between love and sex, the lyrics are quite beautiful in places with Johnson comparing naked lovers to trembling animals awaiting an oncoming storm. Compared to his half hearted delivery on the previous song here his vocals take on a transcendent quality, shooting for the heavens. For some this song will be far too rich a confection but its the perfect choice of closer for the larger than life 'Mind Bomb'.
As distinct a work as you could imagine, this album certainly finds Johnson inspired and fiercely committed to his craft, its just a case that here he's finally let go of any last vestige of restraint and consequently his imagination has been allowed to run riot. The result is an album that's more of an oddball curiosity than a particularly enjoyable listen, a mind f*ck if you will.