I’m thinking of things I’d hoped to forget
I’m choking to death in a sun that never sets
I clogged up my mind with perpetual greed
And turned all of my friends into enemies
And now the past has returned to haunt me
You’re cutting chunks from your heart and rubbing the meat in your eyes
We’re all screwed, destined for eternal internal torment! Yippee! Yes!! Metal!! Doom!! (makes horn signs with fingers) So which Norwegian gloom mongers are we dealing with today then? The Doom Whore Hounds of Hades? The Metal Black-Blacks? Satanic Soul Siphons? Umm, no, nothing like that actually. Welcome to the strangely bleak but jaunty world of The The Soul Mining. Like an embarrassing amount of cool things this completely passed me by at the time, but I am properly on board Matt Johnson’s neurotic ghost train now.
First thing’s first there isn’t a single six-string on the whole of Soul Mining, lots of very subtle bass but no guits. At it’s very best The The juxtapose tastefully sparse synths and percussion, a surprising amount of jaunty instrumental touches and a lot of vocal anguish. Take epic closer ‘Giant’, as an example (where I stole the first stanza above from) lots of happy synth flourishes, then at three minutes in while matt Johnson is singing ‘I’m scared of God and scared of hell / and I’m caving in upon myself’ you hear some percussion sticks click in the background*, which effectively launch six minutes of chanting, drumming and percussive nirvana (small ‘n’), it’s an unexpected swerve right at the end of the LP and quite brilliant. This is my absolute favourite piece of music this week.
In fact much as I am a sucker for well-expressed cynicism, anguish and the whole package, Zeke Manyika’s drumming is my favourite individual element of the sound here. The erstwhile Orange Juice drummer, just propels opener ‘I’ve Been Waiting For Tomorrow (All Of My Life)’ forwards in a really strident fashion, much like Some Bizarre label mates Soft Cell’s ‘Frustration’. It’s the drumming and percussion that largely stops Soul Mining sounding too 80’s today, despite that dry production sound and period synth noises occasionally. That and some great, great tunes.
Speaking of which ‘This Is The Day’ is possibly my absolute favourite piece of music this week, how can anyone resist a track with the opening lines
You didn’t wake up this morning cause you didn’t go to bed.
You were watching the whites of your eyes turn red.
Well I can’t. Team this with some happy accordion playing** which takes it all in a rather unexpected zydeco direction. It’s clever because between the two poles what you’re left with is an 80’s equivalent of ‘It’s A Perfect day’, or another ‘Jane Says’, the sentiments of the song undercut by the sense that this will never be, it’s more of a desperate wish held onto despite the fact that the protagonist knows they will never see it through. Moral ruination and despair you can tap your toes to.
Another great one is the arid, feverish ‘The Twilight Hour’ where Matt Johnson spins us the tale of a man waiting for his lover to phone so he can tell her what he thinks of her, stand up for himself emotionally, to distance himself and then freaking when she doesn’t call, quickly admitting to himself that he’s completely dependent on her really. Tasteful minimal synths, undercut with, umm, tasteful minimal cello give this track a real 3am feel as you listen to Johnson completely unravel for your delectation and edification in the speakers.
But my absolute favourite piece of music this week has to be ‘Uncertain Smile’, which captures all the flutter and wow of a new relationship, well for you and I that would be exciting but Johnson just zeroes in on the sheer anxiety of it all. But while all this is fine, what lifts this song up to the Gods is a sublime soaring piano interlude by Jools Holland that plays out the last three minutes of the track. It’s absolutely masterful, it swoops upwards whilst remaining percussive and rhythmic, the way that great piano breaks do, bathing everything in a sumptuous golden haze of, umm, hazy goldenness. It was a one take job apparently and is the very best thing on a really good album – it’s transformative.
Listening to this again has surprised me just how much I really like it, Soul Mining is a genuinely excellent album, not quite up there with my other 80’s favourites Spirit of Eden but damn close – Talk Talk, The The. Hmmm.
431 Down 431 Down.
P.S – I’m actually being marginally hip here, it’s just been re-released in a fab box set edition with exciting extra bits for its’ 30th birthday. Mine cost me £1.50 from a charity shop 8 years ago, I think that fits the whole concept better.
*courtesy of Jim ‘Foetus’ Thirwell
**oh yes, I’m not afraid to write in praise of the accordion here at 1537. In fact Paul Wickens has also worked with Bon Jovi – making that much sought-after Bon Jovi / The The connection that has puzzled rock scholars for centuries.