Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

JOHNSON, Matt

(b '61, London) UK new wave singer- songwriter; worked as The The. Tea boy in a recording studio at age 15 after working in schoolboy groups; began experimenting with studio techniques, cultivating carefully atmospheric style. Formed the Gadgets with Tom Johnson, Michael O'Shea, former members of Plain Characters; issued two LPs on Vinyl Solution label, Gadgetree '79 and Love, Curiosity, Freckles And Doubt '80 (a third remained unreleased); went solo to concentrate on parallel project The The, the name a send-up of punk's obsession with definite article names. Early influences of Velvet Underground, Tim Buckley and Throbbing Gristle led to individual if introspective music. Supported groups like DAF, Scritti Politti, Wire with backing tapes, synth player Keith Laws '79. Wire's Graham Lewis and Bruce Clifford Gilbert helped with single 'Controversial Subject' '80 for 4AD label, released to critical praise. He contributed 'Untitled' to Some Bizzare Album '81, signed to that label; contributed to Cherry Red sampler Perspectives And Distortions, backtracked to 4AD for his first solo LP (as Matt Johnson) Burning Blue Soul '81, made single-handed except for help from Lewis and Gilbert: a masterpiece of new psychedelia largely ignored at the time. Some Bizzare boss Stevo signed him to CBS, negotiating with MD Maurice Oberstein from the back of a lion in Trafalgar Square after persuading Decca to fund LP sessions. 'Cold Spell Ahead' '81 was second Some Bizarre single, followed by reworked version 'Uncertain Smile' '82. Soul Mining '83 was an amazingly varied LP, incl. single 'Perfect' with ex-New York Doll David Johanson on harmonica, fragile accordion-laced 'This Is The Day', African beat of 'Giant'. The album featured 13 musicians, number of members The The has had since '79. Johnson performed live with a shifting cast, sessioned with Marc Almond in Marc and the Mambas, made LP The Pornography Of Despair, not released. Long-awaited Infected '86 on Epic/Some Bizarre did not disappoint critics, delivering on the implicit promise that studio technology and electronic sounds could be marshalled to resemble music, densely full of his ideas and energy yet not overproduced, his vocal delivery (unlike that of many ex-new wavers) not irritating, but suited to his lyrics (pessimistic politics and dark view of love). Sleeve illustration of copulating demon was censored by CBS; lyrics and videos (one for each track) also caused controversy; incl. 'Heartland' hit single; title single was banned by the BBC. Mind Bomb '89 incl. guitarist Johnny Marr (the Smiths) and was praised for the harmonica playing of Mark Feltham, but the constant bellyaching of his lyrics may begin to pall. Dusk '93 was a third (weak) chart entry in USA; other titles were mini-album Shades Of Blue '86 in USA (incl. 'Infected' and five others), Hanky Panky on Epic UK '95. Compared in his time to Soft Cell, Tears for Fears and Lou Reed, he has maintained his cult status.