Even as a young man, Matt Johnson had the brooding disposition of an old, weathered soul. But now middle-age is actually close enough to tap The The's creative catalyst on the shoulder and Naked Self, one suspects, is his response. It's mainly a series of vignettes about people who, in a moment of clarity amid the mundane numbness of their day-to-day routine, realize they've wasted half their lives to reach a point where they're disaffected, scared, unhappy and desperately lonely. Hardly feel-good stuff and probably partially autobiographical, but Johnson makes it compelling with his incisive observations about the human condition and a cinematographer's eye for detail. "Fluorescent-lit skin looks harsh/So best pretend to be asleep/In case you have to give up your seat," he sings on BoilingPoint, a precise description of the New York subway experience. The music, rendered with just guitars and drums, is highly strung and cadaver-grey, vacillating between moments of fragile acoustic beauty and of electrified, sound-splattering cacophony. Fans of The The's more pop-savvy albums be warned: NakedSelf has more in common with the visceral catharsis of Burning Blue Soul than the hooky charms of Soul Mining.
-- Dave Veitch