The The

nothing Records, 2000

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Matt Johnson has never been an artist who dares to walk the same path twice in a row, even if it meant giving up commercial success. After his band/collective The The enjoyed the success of Dusk and the pleasure of getting airplay with such songs as "Slow Emotion Replay," he took a step back and, in a shocking move to some, chose to rework the songs of Hank Williams, Sr. on Hanky Panky. Even so, each move has seemed to be a natrual progression for The The.

So why is it that when I listen to NakedSelf, The The's first released album in five years, I feel like we've missed a step along Johnson's creative path? There's some great material on this disc, but it almost is as if we're joining a movie already in progress.

Originally, The The were set to release an album named Gun Sluts in 1997 - until Sony Music balked and said they wouldn't release it. (If I've read stories correctly, Johnson is planning on releasing this disc independently later this year.) So maybe NakedSelf is the next logical step from Gun Sluts - and it might have been easier to make the transition from my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Hanky Panky had we been able to listen to the entire artistic process.

Still, you deal with what you've got in front of you - and NakedSelf continues Johnson's melancholic/sarcastic look at life in general. As in many of The The's greatest works, Johnson is at his creative peak when he takes a look at the difficulties of life, whether they be loneliness ("The Whisperers") or facing off against a looming mid-life crisis ("Soul Catcher"). Most powerful moment, from "Soul Catcher": "My life is halfway through / And I still haven't done / What I'm here to do." Ka-pow.

Likewise, Johnson is not above thumbing his nose at society. Similar to his look at how organized religion may have missed the message they claim to preach ("Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)", from Mind Bomb), "Swine Fever" is a pretty powerful tirade against how advertisers can brainwash you into buying something you neither needed nor wanted. It's not going to win him a lot of friends at the ad agencies, but you have to admire how Johnson uses words and music so forcefully.

NakedSelf comes to a boil at the closing track, "Salt Water," a song which seems to allow Johnson and his present partner-in-crime, guitarist Eric Schermerhorn, a chance to let off some creative steam. The track itself sounds like it could have come from any '80s new wave band, and is kind of fun.

The biggest complaint I have with NakedSelf is many songs sound like they needed more instrumentation. "December Sunlight" and "Shrunken Man" are both very powerful songs lyrically, but musically, there's not always the muscle present to back up the message. "December Sunlight" is especially guilty of this, featuring just Johnson on vocals and Schermerhorn on guitars and bass. I don't know exactly what it needed instrumentally, but I know it cried out for more.

And, like many of The The's albums, you really need to spend some time with NakedSelf to fully appreciate its power. "Global Eyes" is another stinging indictment of modern life (though I admit I'm still trying to uncover its full meaning), but it took me some seven listens before I really got into this track. It reminds me a lot of "Helpline Operator" off of Dusk.

NakedSelf is the kind of album that will thrill the devotees of The The, even if not a lot of the material on the disc is written with the goal of radio airplay. ("Voidy Numbness" and, though it's brief, "Salt Water" would be my selections if I were a music director.) While it's not always the easiest album from The The to get into, it is a nice return to the scene for Johnson. Here's hoping we don't have to wait five years for the next album.

Rating: B-

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© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of nothing Records, and is used for informational purposes only.