Review Summary: Why's My NakedJohnson So Old and Shrivelled?
Favourite artists are like everything else in this life, one day they'll let you down. These are the facts and there's no escaping; that band you love will die, split or get decrepit and start releasing the diseased music of the utterly deluded and spent. Back in 1999 I'd been listening to the The The (triple gah) back catalogue near non stop and they'd risen to the envious position of top dog. Not only had I rediscovered and reappraised the two albums I already knew from my youth I'd dug further and sought out the rest of Matt Johnson's work. This process had felt like excavating long buried treasure, I was totally unaware the man was going to record any fresh material, so when I heard The The were releasing a new album under the banner of Trent Reznor's 'Nothing Records' label I was understandably stoked; would Matt go more rock, electronic or industrial" The possibilities were intoxicating.
Well that naive fool was about to get his heart broken; those 13 years since The The's classic 'Infected' album had taken me from an impressionable 8 year old to a no less bright eyed 21 year old. Johnson on the other hand had aged from 25 to 38 and it sounded like...well, it sounded like life had knocked poor Matt for six. I turn 38 next year and listening to this album terrifies me that I only have 12 months before my knob falls off and I'm forced to take up lawn bowls. Back in '93 Johnson was asking himself 'how many whores have walked through that door' but now the similarly sexually themed 'Weather Belle' sounds like he's resigned himself to documenting a septuagenarian shuffle in a nursing home.
The album reaches its geriatric nadir on two ill-advised attempted punk anthems, 'Voidy Numbness' and 'Salt Water'. Embarrassingly try-hard, these tunes are to punk rock what the cast of 'Cocoon' were to my 21 year old wank fantasies. Meanwhile 'Boiling Point' puts us in the shoes of a despairing commuter and surprise of all surprises the song ends up sounding entirely prosaic and snore inducing; a less inspiring opening track you'd be hard pushed to name. The following bluesy muddle of 'Shrunken Man' has a marginally more appealing arrangement and is overall somewhat of an improvement but still sounds alarmingly lifeless; someone please pour Mr Johnson a shot of tequila or seven ta very much.
Of course an artist of this calibre would struggle to release an album entirely without merit and certainly there are moments here where Matt, bless the gods, finally strikes those winning 'timeless' (rather than 'old timer') notes. 'The Whisperers' is still unrelentingly downbeat but boasts some surprisingly ethereal vocals that have more than a little of the Thom Yorke's about them. The stripped down acoustic 'Phantom Walls' is an unflinching document of grief, with Johnson delivering trademark philosophical musings like 'it's pain that stops the heart from hating, that cures the mind of hesitating'. These songs and a handful of others show that if Johnson had tightened the song writing a shade then an album of acoustic based material could have worked, though you still can't escape the feeling that such an approach would've still been more befitting of a 50 something than the man who'd given us 'Soul Mining' and 'Infected' just over a decade earlier.
Needless to say I tried for months, nay possibly years, to love this album as much as previous The The releases but it was ultimately a futile endeavour; at some stage you have to admit to yourself your musical hero has lost the good fight. Johnson would enter the semi-retirement purgatory of recording soundtrack material and effectively disappear off my musical map, possibly for good. It's something that will happen to your favourite band too, and yes you'll mourn that loyal dog a while as you must...but then one day you'll spy a bright eyed puppy and be well on the road to finding yourself a replacement.
In unrelated Sputnik news I've heard the latest Brand New single is slightly disappointing...