The The is a great band name that used to refer to one guy, Matt Johnson, who enlivened drum machines with his raw piano and gravelly vocals on the 1984 classic debut "Soul Mining." But now The The is an all-star New Wave lineup featuring former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, bassist James Eller, and former ABC drummer Dave Palmer. And in many ways, "Mind Bomb" lives up to the just-jeans-and-a-T-shirt image that Johnson and company seem to be trying to project. Palmer's trap kit is so fresh, puncturing the Hammond organ on "The Violence of Truth" and laying down a "Ballroom Blitz"-like beat on "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)," that it sounds like he's in your living room. "The Beat(en) Generation" and "Kingdom of Rain" (a duet with Sinead O'Connor) also have a homespun feel.
But just as "Tin Machine" seems like a David Bowie album, "Mind Bomb" is still very much Matt Johnson's record. His mug hogs the album cover, his maniacal whisper is ubiquitous, and he wrote all of the songs except the best one, "Gravitate to Me," which he wrote with Marr. "Gravite" is aggressive, not didactic. Left to himself, Johnson can get pretty preachy. Every good lyric ("If you think that Jesus Christ is coming / You got another thing comin'") is nullified by a dumb one ("If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today / He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA"). Nevertheless, "Mind Bomb" is a step in the right direction. "Beyond Love" is Johnson's most beautiful song ever. It's just that forty-five minutes of God, love, and war make this album's title a bit too apt.
-- Bob Mack