35 Years Ago: The The’s Matt Johnson Arrives With ‘Burning Blue Soul’
Matt Johnson spent most of the '80s and '90s as the mastermind behind the The. But on Sept. 8, 1981, he announced his arrival with Burning Blue Soul, an album credited to himself in which he played all the instruments.
It's a startling sonic ride. The jarring, hypnotic sounds of "Song Without an Ending" gives way to the understated rumble of "Time Again for the Golden Sunset," which recalls Brian Eno circa Another Green World or Before and After Science. "Like a Sun Risin' Thru My Garden" is an otherworldly trip that still sounds out of time. There are ties to the past, and to his diverse influences, but it was presented in a way that helped him avoid being tagged as simply an imitator of styles. Also of note, Graham Lewis and Bruce Gilbert of Wire were involved in the album's production.
"I’d been in bands since the age of 11 and working full-time in a recording studio at 15, so I almost felt like a bit of a veteran by the time I released Burning Blue Soul." Johnson told Uncut in 2016. "I already had a lot of recordings I recorded between a little home studio that I built in the cellar of my parents’ pub and the studio that I worked at in Soho. I think the first tracks recorded for Burning Blue Soul were “Time Again for the Golden Sunset” and “The River Flows East In Spring,” with Bruce and Graham from Wire."
The album is full of experimentation, tape collages, treated instruments and a general sense of adventure. "Out of Control" is a manic, surging instrumental ride, while "Beautiful Boy" might be the closest to a traditional "pop" song on the album, falling somewhere between Syd Barrett and the Fall. "Another Boy Drowning" is a haunting and powerful ending.
Burning Blue Soul was only the beginning for Johnson, as albums like Soul Mining and Infected would open the The up to wider and wider audiences as he focused his style into more traditional streams, never losing his own unique approach. Burning Blue Soul, which would be rebranded as a the The record when it was re-released in 1993, remains an important piece of Johnson's story.
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