In 1989 English band The The released Mind Bomb, a luscious album that capitalised on everything its predecessor had promised. It’s a quiet masterpiece that still holds very strong today and is one of my favourite albums of all time.
But the previous 1986 album was where I discovered this passionate, unique band.
I was at an impressionable age and songs like “Sweet Bird Of Truth”, “Slow Train To Dawn” and “Out Of The Blue, Into The Fire” were an intoxicating musical and awakening lyrical slap round the face for me. But the first (and title) track is a fanfare fit for an album of such dark, sparkling songs.
Subjects such as war, society’s decay, America’s impending dominance over Great Britain, and visiting a prostitute were all fairly potent in themselves but there’s something about the track “Infected” that sets it slightly apart from the others.
It’s a love song. But presented in a unique way.
Love is a disease. It’s giving him fever, you might say.
The track opens by opening its heart wide and telling you exactly what’s coming. Matt Johnson, singer and songwriter sings, along with another female voice:
Infect me with your love
And from there you kind of know what’s in store. Sultry, snaking horns wail from a distance, signaling something dangerous and tempting around the corner. Then hard, relentless, and (well, there’s no other word for it) infectious drums kick in.
I’ve got too much energy to switch off my mind
But not enough to get myself organized
My heart is heavy, my head is confused
And my aching little soul has started burning blue
Our protagonist is frustrated and lust-fuelled, backed by a vibrant rhythm section that almost seems like a hybrid version of dance and world music.
Indeed the production of the Infected album is beautiful and still sounds vibrant and relevant today.
As Johnson sneers his way through the lyrics, cowbell hits and guitar licks are made to sound like audio objects of desire. It’s a strange and strangely effective mix; Johnson and fellow producer Warne Livesey must have been aware of the quality of Johnson’s deep, individual but sometimes raw vocal range, and several times throughout The The’s history, female vocalists will spar with or accompany him.
On “Infected” there is a female voice floating through the chorus and at other points in the track and it’s a perfect and lovely way to highlight the chorus and simultaneously accentuate the beauty that is present at the same time as the lust.
But then it is mercilessly cut by a frantic wailing trumpet solo before Johnson sings:
Take me by the hands and walk me to the end of the pier
Run your fingers through my hair and tell me what I wanna hear
Will lies become truths in this face of fading youth
The words suggest he is well aware of how brief our lives are, and in this fleeting moment, honesty is optional – he just wants this sweet disease to overtake him.
And then he delivers the sucker punch of a line:
From my scrotum to your womb
Your cradle to my tomb
Johnson must have had the HIV epidemic in his mind when he chose to call this dark, lustful love song “Infected” and with that line it feels as if he’s directly telling people that you can lust after someone but you’ll pay the price, and that price could stretch throughout your whole life, “cradle to tomb.”
But the chorus suggests that doesn’t really factor into it because:
I can’t give you up, till I’ve got more than enough
So infect me with your love
Nurse me into sickness
Nurse me back to health
Endow me with the gifts of the man made world
Along with provocative artwork and a short film for every song on the album, the Infected album proved a huge hit for The The. The video for the title track has Johnson strapped to a kind of gurney and wheeled around various exotic places whilst women dance around fires seductively and people look on quizzically. It’s as provocative as this extraordinary track.
Thirty-something years after its release, “Infected” says something profound about people being consumed by their desires, and its parent album is still as sonically vibrant and lyrically prescient as it ever was.