[19] The The, ‘Sweet Bird Of Truth’

The The

Infected was the second CD I ever bought (yeah, yeah, after The Joshua Tree – I wasn’t exclusively furrow-browed agit-pop) and a jolly listen it is too. Matt Johnson was always pretty straight-faced, but by The The’s second album proper, he wasn’t merely serious – he was grave. ‘Sweet Bird Of Truth’ tackles the dying panic of an American pilot plunging into the Gulf of Arabia, swearing that he’s only done his duty, that he’s never believed in God, but might God be so kind as to lend a hand anyway? It’s bitter, nihilistic and one of many kicks in the teeth Infected dishes out to the good ol’ US of A. I think Leona Lewis covers it on her new album.

But it’s also a sterling tune, dramatic and punchy, almost demanding an uncomfortable sing-song. Junior dances like a drunk to it, rolling her eyes, flailing her limbs – rather like Johnson himself in that bankrupting feature-length video accompanying the album. Insane pop-political statements, eh? Weren’t the 80s great?

Ee ay ee ay – adios!

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[16] Fairport Convention, ‘Si Tu Dois Partir’

Aged 15 and in the throes of a short-lived U2 obsession – The Joshua Tree was the best album ever for a summer at the very least, the musical equivalent of a pair of black jeans, a flat-top haircut and a misguided strut down the high street – I bought the freshly minted Island Story compilation, a bit of self-congratulation for 25 years of quirky eclecticism from the label that always insisted white men could dance to reggae. The U2 contribution was ‘With Or Without You’, which I had anyway, so Lord knows what I thought I was getting. An intro to more impossibly earnest chest-beaters with ringing guitars and unforgivable headgear? Turned out to be an intro to Jim Capaldi, Pete Wingfield, Bob & Earl and Fairport Convention. And I was grateful.

Like any kid who grew up in the 70s and 80s, I nurture a natural suspicion of folk music. Where are the synths, the make-up, the safety pins and the snarls? Get these guitar-fumbling drips away from me! My stance has softened now, but Fairport Convention – at least from a distance – threw another problem into the mix: Q Magazine and their bewildering worship of Richard Thompson. I’m sure he’s brilliant and everything (this is 15-year-old me speaking, but it might as well be me, here and now) but I haven’t heard anything, and besides – he has a tidy beard and astonishing taste in shirts. If I drop my guard now, I’ll be championing Little Village and The Robert Cray Band within minutes.

Chaos and joy define Fairport Convention’s French Cajun and French language version of Bob Dylan’s ‘If You Gotta Go, Go Now’. Sandy Denny’s woeful accent (worse than Jane Birkin’s in the serendipitously adjacent entry) and her “Come on, children, join in!” schoolmarm-ish tone could be a turn-off, but I prefer to get involved. Anyway, you can only love a song that makes a tumbling stack of chairs meld seamlessly into the percussion. Junior swanned around the kitchen and didn’t get involved herself until the last few bars, but I think we can put that down to reticence – she’s obviously tired of grown-up rock mags prostrating themselves in front of Thompson too.

Hey, maybe he really is great. 

[1] U2, ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’

I was given my first CD player for my birthday that year and had to choose one CD. A friend suggested I replace my favourite album. The Joshua Tree had been out for three months, ample time for me to decide – briefly – that it was the greatest record ever released, so that was the one. How fickle our young selves are.

I forgot about it for a few years, when chest-beating stadium behemoths were painted as the devil incarnate, but have come back to it a bit now, and it’s not too harsh a shock to see this song at the top of the pile. U2’s plodding and patchy recent efforts, and the “will this do?” likes of Coldplay’s vapid X&Y are giving impassioned, crowd-pleasing rock a bad name again, though, and the superior quality of The Joshua Tree is shown in stark relief.

Not everyone’s cup of tea, of course, and not really my favourite stuff these days. Some songs break through. I like the yearning and insistent chords, and the way it builds, shown to more obvious effect on Rattle & Hum’s gospelified version. The Chimes’ fantastic soul cover a few years later takes it even further, bringing out the potential Bono hoped it had.

Of course, it could just be a load of cod-religious, bombastic, empty posturing. Hey, that’s why we love them, right? Junior tried to get with the questing theme by working out how to sit up unaided. Didn’t quite manage it, but she put on a decent performance. Acting baby.