Reason #443 Why The ’80’s Didn’t Suck: Infected

Soul Mining, Matt Johnson’s 1983 release was a bit of a revelation for me when it came out, so when the follow up was unleashed (3 years after Soul Mining—a LONG time between records back then), I was excited. Where would he go? Would he play on the cool atmospherics of SM, or would he take it somewhere else? The first song, the title track, gave me my answer, and it wasn’t what I expected. It had horns! HORNS! What the hell was this? But after I got over my initial shock I was pleasantly surprised by the album as a whole. It still contained Johnson’s trademark dark poetry and was even more politically bent than SM was. Sweet Bird Of Truth, Out Of The Blue and Heartland were the standouts, but the whole album was certainly up to the high standards set by that other one.

Allmusic states: “Infected‘s sound still suggests dance-pop, especially on the title track. But don’t get the impression that it’s made for dancing. Instead of the light fare displayed on Soul Mining, Infected‘s songs seethe instead of preen, and Matt Johnson‘s lyrics are laced with tension. Thematically, he plunges a lance into the exposed midsection of Great Britain, analyzing the state of modern urban life in the country. “This is the land where nothing changes,” Johnson sings on the World Party-ish “Heartland.” “A land of red buses and blue bloody babies/This is the place where the hearts are being cut from the welfare state.” “Angels of Deception” matches rain-slicked verses to a powerful chorus flavored with gospel backup singers and enormous reverb percussion. With production tricks like this, Infected aligns itself with the dance-pop sound of its predecessor (and the prevailing sound of British pop music at the time). But there’s no denying the record’s acerbic lyricism or dark-toned instrumentation. “Sweet Bird of Truth” is gritty pop tinged with wartime radio chatter and muscular horns that somehow manage to be apocalyptic, and the sweaty finale “Mercy Beat” has a drink with the devil while dance-pop burns brightly in the background, sending embers into the London night sky. Synthesized horns and crashing drums converge around a mirthful Johnson lyric before the song finally fades to the weird tones of a looped guitar. Infected was the first true indication of Johnson‘s mercurial nature, and established the dissonance and reinvention of his later work.”

Matt would change his sound one more time during the 80’s with his Johnny Marr assisted masterpiece Mind Bomb, but this one remains a definite high point in his career for me.