Sunday, March 12, 2006

Albums I Forgot I Owned, Part 2

The The - Infected

As I've mentioned before, I grew up in the far North of Scotland. Throughout the 80s, my Mum, Dad, brother and I lived in an isolated farmhouse in the middle of a flat expanse of barley fields. For me as a teenager, it seemed to be as miserably far away from civilisation as it was possible to get*.

But even though the nearest Top Shop was 80 miles away in Aberdeen, we did in fact live at the centre of something: the global geo-political situation. Inasmuch as there ever was one, we lived right on the front line of the Cold War.

Our house sat at the end of the runway of the local RAF base, from which Nimrod aircraft would take off at 30-minute intervals to go scouting the North Sea for Soviet nuclear submarines**. Most days we would pass the main gate of the base, where there would always be a sign indicating the level of general military alert. Usually it was green, but occasionally it would escalate to orange or red.

I never paid much attention to this (after all, I had Nik Kershaw to think about), but looking back I like the fact that the expression of complex events on the global stage could be reduced to a choice of three colours on a rickety metal sign outside a military base in the middle of nowhere.

That's not to say I wasn't conscious of the Cold War. The nuclear threat terrified me most of the way through the 80s. We were well aware of the legendary four-minute warning, and I don't think there's been anything before or since that's frightened me so much. I was vaguely comforted by the fact that living next to an air force base meant there was a greater likelihood of our being killed outright in the event of a nuclear attack. I'd seen Threads, and the prospect of surviving into the nuclear winter was unimaginably terrible.

The The's "Infected" album is one of several from the 80s that deal with Cold War politics, and my brother and I used to listen to it a lot when it came out. I've owned it on and off ever since, but my current copy of it had been sitting around untouched in my CD collection for a few years. I got it out again recently because some of Barry Adamson's songs reminded me of it, and wow, it's still pretty great.

Matt Johnson was at his top lyrical best when singing about politics, and at his absolute lyrical worst when singing about relationships, so it's the political songs that stand out. "Heartland" is a fabulously bleak picture of Thatcher's Britain***, while my favourite, "Angels of Deception", has Johnson as a poor helpless individual crushed by the mighty forces of the US "occupation" of Britain (think Greenham Common), War and Religion.

The thing that strikes me about it now is that while everyone else (from Frankie Goes To Hollywood to, er, Sting) was singing about the Soviet Union, and Red Army chic**** was at an all-time high, Matt Johnson chose to write portentous agit-pop songs about the tensions between the US, Britain and the Middle East. Which is why, even though this album is 20 years old this year, it still sounds spookily relevant.

Also, they're currently selling it for a fiver in Fopp. Go to it, I say.

Sorry, that was all a bit long, wasn't it?

* Although the crushing loneliness never reduced me to eating flowers, cardboard or cleaning agents, unlike some.

** And lost climbers in the Cairngorms, but that doesn't really fit with the story.

*** Although let's not forget that for every miners' strike, Falklands Conflict, three million-plus unemployment, Chernobyl disaster and collapsed car industry, there was a member of Duran Duran. So the 80s weren't all bad.

**** As recently modelled by LC here...


longcat said...

infected by The The was owned & loved by a group of friends who i was always curiously on the outside of, i never really got it, hence my outside nature,

it was with them that i had my one and only positive experience of baked beans, on acid, once - and yes, a cup of (dilmah) tea is generally my staple these days, the mushrooms are at best a once yearly blessed thing.


Stef the engineer said...

Goodness - broght back memories. I shared a house in London with, amongst others, a dancer studying at the London Studio Centre, and she basically had this album on constantly playing at one stage.

And now I can't remember a single song from it.

(Unlike her other favourite, from the Christians, which I can't ever seem to forget. "Oh when the fingers point..."_

Wyndham said...

Ooh, I was always more of a Soul Mining man myself, great album. But Matt Johnson was never the most-subtle of songwriters, perfect for a tortured - ie, miserable - teenager like me. Whatever became of him? He released a C&W album a few years back and then - nada.

patroclus said...

Oh yes, until very recently I liked Soul Mining much better, too. "This Is The Day" and "Uncertain Smile" are great songs.

I don't know what became of him, but I do remember writing a play about him at school, in which he was being seasick on a cross-channel ferry. My literary genius was never recognised, sigh.

Smat said...

was there not also an in-depth analysis of MJ's tastes in furniture based on his song lyrics?
btw the memory of your literary genius as I use you as an example to the Baby Smats. Selected highlights obviously.

taigathefox said...

That sounds bit familiar to me.
Back in the 80's I was living way too close to Soviet border and Chernobyl, but oh well, I had John and Andy Taylor to think about.

patroclus said...

Smat: There was, as well! You have a fantastic memory for these things. I may have repressed most of my memories of school, which is probably a good thing for all concerned. Especially me.

Taiga: My word, you mean Andy Taylor had another fan? I thought I was the only one!

I realise that the above two comments may be mutually contradictory.

surly girl said...

oh god. threads. gave me nightmares for years.

you know you can buy it on amazon? i am trying very hard not to let morbid curiosity get the better of me. i don't have the time for extensive psychotherapy.

Pashmina said...

I've been listening to quite a lot of The The lately, as it happens, more Soul Mining than Infected - though clearly this is about to change.

Sod Threads, there was a QED programme from the mid-80s called "A Guide to Armageddon", from which I worked out that if a bomb dropped on St Paul's I'd be dead within 5 minutes. I barely slept for the rest of the decade.

(Andy Taylor? Are you sure? And I thought my friend was a bit odd for fancying Roger)

Marsha Klein said...

Ho hum! I have just caught up with your last four posts and, despite feelings of deep inadequacy (no meetings with witty, talented TV types or hallucinogenic substances ingested for me, ever!) I'm going to plough on regardless and COMMENT.

I had my Civil Service interview in the '80s (could I BE more boring? See also above). The building it was held in was populated by nondescript middle-aged men and women in cardigans and yet it had a sign at the door:
Security Alert Status: Black. Why would such a building need such a thing? Perhaps it enabled those contained with in it's walls to learn words like "alert" and "status". Who knows? (Or indeed, cares?)

surly girl said...

our building had that too. sometimes it went yellow, which was marginally more exciting. it still never kicked off beyond some people spitting at the screens though. local government - never knowingly interesting.

patroclus said...

SG: I daren't even look. Threads left an indelible scar on my psyche. God, it was frightening. And then there was that Raymond Briggs book too, wasn't there? Horrible.

Pash: Better being dead within five minutes than surviving, brrr. But moving swiftly on: Andy Taylor. I'm afraid so. Well, I was young and didn't know any better. Roger was quite a looker though, wasn't he?

Marsha: Was black good or bad? I've always liked the "Beige Alert" thing from Futurama, or is it the Simpsons? Or neither?

Marsha Klein said...

Black was good, I think, although it may simply have been an accurate reflection of the mood within!

"Beige alert" would also have been rather appropriate reflecting, as it did, the apparel of many of the inmates.

entropy said...

I wasn't quite old enough in the 80s to have grasped the Cold War. Instead, I was generally terrified of chemical tankers (or anything with a HazChem sign). A little knowledge is a bad thing.

taigathefox said...

Oh my, I've kept this as a secret for so long and there were two of us! (Way to go Andy. You're popular.)
My cousin was a Roger fan. Pashmina, that is odd.

surly girl said...


i fancied andy taylor too. i think it was the hair. and that he was short and unthreatening.


patroclus said...

I can't stop laughing at the fact that a VERY SERIOUS post about NUCLEAR WAR AND THAT has somehow resulted in a series of confessions to teenage crushes on the be-mulleted, gnome-like one from Duran Duran. Fantastic!

taigathefox said...

Truly sorry for ruining your serious post (again), but while Mr.Fox tried to burn our kitchen, I found a badge, where the gnome-like one seems to have blonde hair (?)

patroclus said...

Bleached from the exotic "Rio" video shoot, or Sun-In? You decide!

Pashmina said...

My god, this blog has become the nexus for everyone who ever fancied Andy Taylor. Ever.

I should like to point out that at the Duran reunion gig at the Forum a couple of years ago, Roger had aged remarkably well (almost certainly due to the fact that he Got Out First), and Andy kept his shades on all night and looked like a bit of a twat (John, my own predictable favourite at the time, showed no evidence that the years had dimmed his love for himself).

[I agree about the dying within 5 mins/surviving thing, Pat, but as a result of that QED I never did pluck up the courage to sit through the whole of Threads. The War Game on the other hand...]

patroclus said...

>>Duran reunion gig<<

If ever there was an appropriate occasion for me to come out with "Oh. My. God.", I think that would be it. There wasn't!? You didn't!?

Oh. My. God.

How did Nick Rhodes look?

Oh, and Pash - you've just given me a fantastic new tagline. Everyone look away now while I fiddle with this here template...

Pashmina said...

There was. I did. It was ace.

To be honest, I'm a bit surprised that you weren't there yourself (I bumped into about half a dozen people I knew that night, all grinning like loons).

Nick didn't look too bad as it happens, which was not at all as expected.

wv: olfii didn't he win the Turner prize a few years back?

patroclus said...

I wasn't there, but I did go to the Sisters of Mercy reunion gig at the Forum, which was hilarious. Balding, middle-aged ex-goths are very comical.

But then, all goths are quite comical, as anyone who's, I've already done that one.

*resists forceful temptation to quote GW on the subject of goths*

patroclus said...

Erm...did they play "The Chauffeur" at all?

I actually just turned my laptop back on in order to ask that. Oh dear.

Pashmina said...

They did, as it happens. Amongst other things, obviously.

taigathefox said...

Nice nexus here.

I have been staring at that badge. That man really looks like an überblonde spacemonkey.

patroclus said...

I think I saw Uberblonde Spacemonkey play at the Koneisto festival at the (wait for it while I trot out my best attempt at Finnish) Kaapelitehdas* last year, Taiga.

* I gave up and had to look it up.

taigathefox said...

Oh, who? You see, we are all like that here. Except me, because I'm not blonde. [That might be hard to believe actually.]

Valerie said...

Oy. I can't say I was ever into those Duran Duran boys (though I admit to a crush on a couple of the a-ha boys), but getting back to The The...

I have long liked The The's Mind Bomb, and two years ago I picked up a really interesting album — Interpretations: Shrunken Man, which has an original The The song and then versions of it by Dauu, John Parish and Foetus. I was impressed by it — kind of veering in the industrial direction, I'd say. I just got back from Australia with 9 new albums, including The The's Dusk — and almost bought Infected! — but I haven't had a chance to listen to it yet.