photo & text by nacrowe
i have clear memories of long nighttime car rides with my father alongside the BURGAN oil field in KUWAIT on our way to and from some company gathering in the desert listening to MIND BOMB (EPIC, 1989) by THE THE on the stereo. some records are just perfectly paired with a specific location and the GEOPOLITICAL, RELIGIOUS concerns of MATT JOHNSON and the plodding, expansive guitar evocations of JOHNNY MARR could not have been better coupled with the countless nocturnal gas flares that populate the globe's single largest sandstone oil field.
mind you this record was released more than a year before the invasion and subsequent liberation of KUWAIT, but its appeal as an almost prophetic vision of a new emerging century dominated by ANCIENT HATREDS and RELIGIOUS PERSECUTIONS still feels prescient and absolutely relevant. the story i read somewhere, and i am paraphrasing here, is that JOHNSON tasked MARR (who at the time had recently departed from THE SMITHS) with make soundscapes of the sky expanding and the earth eating and collapsing in on itself to which the guitarist plainly retorted something to the effect of "mate, i just have this piece of wood here with some strings and electronics." but that is essentially what the dude did. tracks like "ARMAGEDDON DAYS" and "GOOD BYE BEAUTIFUL" are some of the most spacious and expressive compositions of his career to date (which is saying something because he has had a brilliant and legendary career).
MIND BOMB really is quite the COLLABORATION, partly because it solidifies MARR's preternatural ability and reputation for seamlessly creating and working within the particular specifications of a demanding writing partner known for being quite INSULAR and keenly DELIBERATE with their lyrical intentions and ambitions. JOHNSON is a THOUGHTFUL, ENGAGED citizen that has the capacity to collapse global political concerns with themes of the MUNDANE and the PERSONAL. all too often the experience of listening to THE THE songs is one of discerning obtuse lyrics rather than enjoying a melody, but MIND BOMB (as well as its subsequent MARR-collaborated follow-up DUSK) is on another level entirely where the aural compositions matched and maybe even superseded the already high ambitions of the lyrical content.
if you are a fan of INDIE ROCK or THE SMITHS or just transgressive ROCK N ROLL in the high lyrical tradition of LOU REED, NEIL YOUNG, BOB DYLAN and the like, definitely check out MIND BOMB. it is well worth the effort.