Today's weird little nugget of synchronicity is my listening to this album whilst out on the bike, then stopping off at the supermarket on the way home to hear This Is the Day piped over HEB's public address system - weird because I was bonkers for This Is the Day when it came out in 1983, back when I was a spotty English teenager who hadn't quite worked out how to use a comb; and that was what got me into The The in the first place; and because it's strange to be in a supermarket in Texas thirty years later hearing the same song as opposed to - I dunno - Willie Nelson or something...
Okay. Maybe it isn't that strange, or no more so than any of the tunes to which the Anglophile cashiers of San Antonio apparently like to listen as they work, most of which seem to have been playlisted by myself when I was seventeen. I haven't yet heard anything by Alternative TV, Throbbing Gristle, or Domestic Bliss whilst buying my grits, chitlins, collard greens, ammunition, or BBQ supplies, but I expect it's only a matter of time.
I assumed this to be the new album when I picked it up and was a bit embarrassed to realise it's thirteen years old, embarrassed because Matt Johnson is clearly a genius approaching Thirlwell proportions and deserving of support. When he first began recording, or specifically recording albums that were sold in the shops to which I had access, I was convinced that the future of music lay with the multi-instrumentalist one man band, or at least the one man plus singer band. This prophecy was deduced from the general excellence of Soft Cell, Foetus and others who, like Brian Eno before them, recorded music as they saw fit, unfettered by the obligations that come with membership of a full band - every song being required to feature a part for the euphonium just so that Bingo won't feel left out. On the strength of Nine Inch Nails, I'd say it wasn't too bad as a prediction, leaving aside the obvious futility of ever predicting that any one thing will be the future of anything.
Even with other musicians drafted in, The The still feels very much like a personal vision on Naked Self, which is probably why the guy has always been such a great communicator, namely that we all know how a personal vision feels. For my money this quality became sidelined during the years of The The as a full band, and whilst Johnny Marr's guitar playing was undeniably great, that material still carried a tang of compromise in comparison to this.
I bought Naked Self fully expecting a huge disappointment, the continued stumbling efforts of someone who really should have jacked it in some time ago to concentrate on his hotel portering, but it could quite easily have been recorded immediately following Soul Mining. This isn't to suggest it sounds necessarily dated, for Matt's music has always had a timeless, somewhat universal quality for all its being sprung from the aforementioned personal vision. Weirdly, this might even be the best album he's done, allowing for the possibility that he's probably squeezed out a few more since; and Shrunken Man is a cracker.