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.