Review Summary: Best enjoyed with friends and pizza.
In retrospect, the eighties have often been greeted with an air of sarcasm. The mainstream audience tends to scoff at anything that was released in the era. However, there has been an apparent increase in the popularity of the fluorescent dance music of the eighties in alternative music culture, with artists such as M83 and Chvrches spawning a fresh new interpretation. While the influence may only be stylistic, the sound of The The seems to resemble this trendy new eighties resurgence more than most other groups of the era. This is perhaps due to the fact that The The’s stark, eccentric sound has dated rather modestly, considering the amount of stylistic conventions that are used in this album. The juxtaposition of sounds and themes in The The’s music is obviously a positive addition to their overall sound, creating a unique touch.
Soul Mining is very much an angsty teenage album. Each track is splattered in emotional narrative, with themes of isolation, existential crises and unrequited love taking to the foreground in the lyrical content. That is not to say that the album is in any way unlistenable to the more carefree listener, in fact, the album’s catchy hooks and generally uptempo rhythmic drive make it accessible to any fan of the genre.
The album begins with the raucous “I’ve Been Waitin’ For Tomorrow”, a track which quickly establishes the general aesthetic of the album. From the countdown that begins this opening track, we are introduced to a minimalistic 80s dance beat that lasts for the duration of the song, and the characteristically sombre poetry of singer and lyricist Matt Johnson. The track swiftly progresses into an urgent flurry of synthesised sirens and anxious lyrics, providing a dramatic introduction to the album. While the best is yet to come, “This is the Day” remains one of the highlights of the album. The overall lyrical message of this song is so ambiguous that it is difficult to pinpoint the exact emotions that it evokes, however the upbeat and friendly music appears to be somewhat ironic against the apparent passiveness of the vocals. The accordion hook is really something, adding a strangely lively and feel-good flavour to the overall sound. The next track, “The Sinking Feeling”, really acts as a sign, pointing in the direction that the rest of the album follows. This track has a clearer lyrical contention, one of depression and anxiety, more specifically the pessimistic narrative of a teenager facing an existential crisis. The music in this song is driven by an uneasy synth riff and the reverb-drenched guitar of Johnny Marr, with the ironic addition of an up-tempo rhythmic pattern that is driven by keyboard claps and tambourine. Matt Johnson really shows off the expressive characteristics of his vocals in this track.
And then comes the outstanding highlight, “Uncertain Smile”, a heartfelt song that reflects the feelings of unrequited love with a fittingly dour narrative. Even the subtle synthesiser that marks the very beginning of the track seems significant to those who await the thunderous piano solo. This track is drenched in the reverberations of Johnny Marr’s acoustic guitar hook, which adds a more organic touch to the overall sound. The lyrics here are of subtle beauty, reflecting the feelings of unrequited love in second person narrative with both despair and a dramatic acceptance. The icing on the cake of this treasure is of course the dramatic piano solo from Jools Holland, which tops this subtle piece of art with a dramatic melancholy.
“The Twilight Hour” continues this album in a rather brooding step into the lyrical realms of personal bitterness. This track has one of the most interesting beats in the album, and a consistent keyboard riff to accompany. The lyrics tell of reliance and attachment in a relationship, and the vocal delivery is spectacular. This track is followed by the brooding title track. As the title track, “Soul Mining” indicates the true emotions that lie at the core of this album; despair, bitterness, and a maudlin sentimentality. The narrative is a very sombre reflection on personal feelings and experiences, a little less anecdotal and specific than the previous track, but still emotive and brooding. The final track, “Giant”, ends the album on an upbeat note, with an up-tempo drumbeat that gives momentum back to the album. The lyrics here are just as maudlin as the rest of the album, but the stable and catchy rhythms in the accompaniment give life to this extensive dance track. Johnson ends his vocal duties with a fittingly uncertain message, “How can anyone know me, when I don’t even know myself?”. This line is delivered with enthusiasm and vigor, a truly excellent conclusion to the album. The rest of the track is a repetition of the rhythmic drum pattern and chanting, accompanied by a warm synth sound to resolve the tension left by Johnson’s final calls of confusion.
Overall, this release is a very coherent mix of dance tracks, but the lyrical content and vocal delivery make the album much more than an ambitious pop album. What is displayed here is not only an excellent array of danceable compositions, but an obvious aptitude in the musicianship. While the vocal delivery on side two is more emotive, I prefer side one for it’s strong compositions and catchy hooks. The obvious standout track is “Uncertain Smile”, a masterpiece by any standard.
Soul Mining is a superb album, and is a worthy addition to any popular music collection.