Feb 162024
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

I first heard The The’s Infected sometime in the late 1980s. I was unimpressed. So was Ira A. Robbins of Trouser Press, who called Matt Johnson’s first album, Burning Blue Soul, “formless ‘songs’ with laughably precious lyrics.” And so was Robert Christgau, whose summation of The The read, in its entirety, “Uh-uh.” By Soul Mining, Johnson shifted gears and reverted to a more popular ’80s pop sound. But by then, I had moved on to the Pixies.

Some years later, I ran upon Dusk in a cache of used CDs that I had bought for my online CD store. All of a sudden I was a fan. Here is someone who understands pain. Here is someone that writes empathy: “Your problems will be mine,” he promises in “Helpline Operator.” Just the title of the song “Love Is Stronger Than Death,” moves us before we even hear the first note. Trouser Press agreed, reversing a years-long vendetta by writing that Johnson had matured into “a subtle and versatile artist.” The The was the definite article.

At this point, wanting to learn more about this band and trying to search on a computer in the early years of the internet, I ran into my first wall: search engines. In the beginning, search engines would disassociate the two “the”s. Basically all pages with the word “the” would appear. So…all pages. Searching for the band really was impossible outside of official channels, especially before YouTube. Things eventually got easier, but even now, decades after the band’s first album, I started to have flashbacks to the early days while curating this piece. When I searched the Live Archive, for instance, any accidental repeat of the word, like a typo (Think “The The Grateful Dead”) showed up in results.

So I have worked mightily to find these covers, and have posted songs from every imaginable source. I probably listened to 50 hours of covers for this piece. Here we go.

dEk101 — This Is The Day (The The cover)

Johnson’s best known song got a revival on the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy 3 last summer. Usually covers that draft behind the original too closely can create some grievance from music fans. But YouTuber dEk101 captures so much of the nuance and pacing of Johnson’s rich song that it’s delightful. It’s a lot of effort and well worth a listen.

Badly Drawn Boy — This Is The Day (The The cover)

Let’s flip 180 degrees and scale it down to the basics. Damon Gough dispenses with Johnson’s keyboard hook and just picks the rhythm, but his voice tracks closely with Johnson, and the result is just great.

Angela McCluskey — Love Is Stronger Than Death (The The cover)

The Wild Colonials McCluskey takes Johnson’s most poignant song and creates a fantastic transition from a raspy dive bar song to an all-out symphonic rocker. Yes, of course there’s an accordion solo.

Kolmarshal — Helpline Operator (The The cover)


Kol Marshall is a recording engineer and music producer who lives in the Catskills. Although I miss Johnson’s higher range on this cover, it’s all about the wah wah.

Brookville – Slow Emotion Replay (The The cover)

Brookville is a spinoff of Ivy, a band Andy Chase formed with Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne. No harmonica, but Johnny Marr-esque guitar and lounge-y vocals give it a chill vibe.

Dirk Darmstaedter — The Beat(en) Generation (The The cover)


Darmstaedter’s version of “The Beat (en) Generation” is an ASMR-inspired dream—brushes on the drums and a breathy delivery—but that gets busted wide open by a couple of sharp harmonica breaks

Willis — This Is The Night (The The cover)

Last, and certainly not least, is “This is The Night” by Willis., best known for a cover of Cameo’s “Word Up” that went viral on a CSI episode. Hayley Willis, in a suit and doll makeup, sings and dances around people walking their dogs and mugging for the camera, but her unconditional joy can’t be stopped and will stay in your head for days.

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  One Response to “In The Spotlight: The The”

Comments (1)
  1. Surprised Elbow’s “August And September” didn’t make the cut.

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