Thursday, February 25, 2010

The End of the Eighties, Track 10

“Gravitate to Me”
The The
Mind Bomb

I remember dancing to the 12-inch versions of “Perfect” and “Infected” at Thursday’s long before I ever made it onto Bowling Green’s campus. In fact, the albums that spawned those original songs, the US release of Soul Mining and Infected, are pretty amazing, but it wasn’t until I heard Mind Bomb for the first time that I was completely overwhelmed by Matt Johnson’s work. Released in July 1989, the album somehow got by me that summer despite working in the CD store.

I remember our next door neighbor in Chapman Hall was named Matt, and that he let me borrow his Mind Bomb disc one day. (Irreconcilable memory: For some reason I think Matt moved in during the Spring semester, so that means I didn’t give Mind Bomb my full attention until at least a half-year after it was originally released. That seems crazy to me, but I can’t say with any degree of certainty that he was there in the Fall of 1989.)

There wasn’t a more aptly titled disc for me to find at that time than Mind Bomb. A 19-year-old creative writing major who scrawled poetry at every chance I had, this album hit me right in the chest. The first thought I had after listening to this collection of songs was “I could have written this!” It wasn’t hubris, or me being egotistical, or even simple naïveté, it was a compliment. It wasn’t that I thought I could be a successful songwriter, it was that Johnson had taken so many of the same thoughts and similar themes I was exploring in my poetry and synthesized them into something beautiful.

It was like he had climbed inside my head, rooted around and among the thoughts and confusion in there – the sex and lust and love and religion and cynicism – and made poetry of it all. I have always felt Mind Bomb owes as much to Prince as it does to Julian Cope/Teardrop Explodes or Love and Rockets. The one-two album closers, “Gravitate to Me” and “Beyond Love”, are pure dorm room, post-punk seduction.

“Gravitate to Me” is the most romantic you’ll ever see Johnson get, and I think it has everything to do with the fact it’s the lone song co-written by Johnny Marr over the course of his two-album stint with the band. The former Smiths guitarist worked with Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders in the late ’80s before ultimately forming Electronic with New Order’s Bernard Sumner, and splitting his time between Electronic and The The until mid-’90s.

Lyrical cockiness mingled with a hint of chinks in the armor sprawl across eight-plus minutes of Marr’s ringing guitar and anchored harmonica work mixed with Johnson’s piano. The swagger of the protagonist falters only once: when acknowledging the turmoil within somewhere around the song’s mid-point (“And to quell the torrents / In my subterranean depths”), otherwise, it’s unadulterated bravado from its aquatic start to its jingling harmonica outro.

There is a certain “helter skelter” lurking beneath the lighthouse imagery and the idea that there is nothing that could possibly keep the lovers apart, but it never surfaces enough to scare away the notion of destiny. It’s an unsettling feeling that is more exciting than off-putting, and it runs through much of Johnson’s body of work. This time it’s tempered with just enough sensuality to sell it.

1 comment:

Matt Kish said...

Adam, your memories are eerily accurate. I did indeed arrive at BG in January of 1990. I don't think I arrived with "Mind Bomb" so chances are I bought it at Mad Hatter some time in January or February. I remember specifically liking the song "The Beat(en) Generation" which, oddly enough, I can still remember remarkably well even now, yet I've forgotten almost every other track from "Mind Bomb" That was at least one of the singles though, and I believe it had a video as well, which probably explains my recall.

This is an impressive blog. The wide range of topics is intriguing and your writing is exceptionally good.