The The - Naked Self
Twenty years on, more or less, since the first murmurings from TheThe, the fact that Matt Johnson can keep writing and performing music of this quality is an astounding thing to consider. Naked Self is the first offering from TheThe on Trent Reznor's nothing label, and what a 'debut' it is. The title gives some sort of clue as the nature of the songs on here. Many theorists would claim that there is no such thing as the 'self'; the human machine is born into a language/culture they had absolutely nothing to do with creating, but still are forced to express themselves through it. This gives rise to the notion that perhaps there is no such thing as the self at all. Our innermost thoughts and behavior, our sense of 'self, the person we are,' is merely a construct that society has created in order to thrive. It's a fairly sobering thought. It's nice to imagine that our interest in, say, Stamp Collecting, is born out of our own desires and free will, but it's more likely to be because, simply put, society has decided it needs one more stamp collector. Or so goes the theory anyway.
The NakedSelf then, a loose, constantly shifting ragtag of symbols and conflicting ideologies and this does, indeed, neatly sum up the position the album takes. Make no mistake; this is an extremely dark album, though it pulls off the neat little trick of being dark and bleak but never depressing. It's a collection of twelve songs that sit together in perfect little batches, and again, this is one album that deserves a listen to in one sitting. It's guitar heavy, without containing a single riff that sounds like anything else. Opening track, BoilingPoint highlights this nicely, beginning with sirens that slowly fade to be replaced by backward masked guitars with deep, throbbing bass behind them.
Indeed, 'throbbing' could be applied to the album as a whole quite nicely. There's a sense of depth, and something foreboding, under the surface of nearly every song. More often than not, it manages to break the surface, and stand revealed in the lyrics. Listen to ShrunkenMan, "Cruel to be kind he cut out all the soft parts/but some days in little ways/love seeps out in the things he says" for Johnson's take on the human condition, a race that is forced to close off parts of our psyche in order to survive. Incidentally, none of the song titles have spaces in them, which nicely symbolises the lack of pure empty space within ourselves in the word culture in which we exist.
Elsewhere on the album, we get attacks on globalisation and consumer culture, and, though fairly hackneyed subjects, Johnson still manages to sound fresh and interesting. There's lyrical twists and tricks employed that simply delight; "Truth hides in plain sight/Kentucky fried genocide" from GlobalEyes or "Fee fi fo fum/I smell the blood of a gullible bum" from SwineFever for example. SwineFever also contains the lines, "What is the use in possessing the world/When you do not possess your self?" which, again, underscores the fragile construct of the self that the album highlights.
Put simply, NakedSelf is an essential album for anyone who professes a love for music. It's twelve songs of dazzling inventiveness and passion that demand repeat listens to fully ooze their way under your skin, but be assured, once there, they won't be leaving in a hurry.