The The wasn't so much a band as a personal musical conceit/alter ego, this one for English writer-performer Matt Johnson. While Johnson's "band" came of age during the English synth pop boom of the early 80s, electricity was about the only common denominator between Johnson and his fashion slave contemporaries. Indeed, the sense of conscientious outrage that informs many of the two decades worth of singles collected here fostered a perception of Johnson as something of a prickly malcontent. But fashion was never an end in itself for Johnson, even on early pop fare like "Uncertain Smile" and "Perfect." Johnson's restless creative bent has led him to remix many of these tracks anew, ensuring that this set would never be seen as mere artistic obituary. Johnson's reputation as a socio-political crank reached its zenith on tracks like "Heartland" (which decries the reverse cultural colonization of Britain by America) and "Armageddon Days" (a shotgun blast at pan-religious hypocrisy, here introduced by a hilarious parody of the Sweet's "Ballroom Blitz": "Are you ready Jesus? Yeah! / Budda? Uh-huh."), but subsequent history has only proven him sagacious. Pity that Johnson's "Armageddon" lineup was short-lived: The The was a real band in 89, with Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr adding his signature sound to "The Beat(en) Generation" as well. And if anyone thought they had Johnson pegged, his acclaimed 1995 Hank Williams tribute, Hanky Panky (represented here by a riveting reinvention of the country legend's "I Saw the Light"), surely set them scratching their heads again. The set is rounded out by three strong new tracks ("Decembersunlight (Cried Out)," a duet with Liz Horsman; "Pillar Box Red"; and "Deep Down Truth," a duet with Wild Colonial Angela McCluskey).
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