Infected (The The album)

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The The - Infected CD album cover.jpg
Studio album by
Released17 November 1986
GenrePost-punk, alternative rock
Length60:59 (40:57)
LabelSome Bizzare/Epic
ProducerWarne Livesey, Matt Johnson, Roli Mosimann, Gary Langan
The The chronology
Soul Mining
Mind Bomb
Singles from Infected
  1. "Heartland"
    Released: 4 August 1986
  2. "Infected"
    Released: 13 October 1986
  3. "Slow Train to Dawn"
    Released: 12 January 1987
  4. "Sweet Bird of Truth"
    Released: 11 May 1987

Infected is the second album by the The, released on Some Bizzare/Epic Records on 17 November 1986.[1] The album produced four UK singles, including their best-selling single "Heartland", which reached 29 and spent 10 weeks on the chart, "Infected" (UK #48), "Slow Train to Dawn" (UK #64) and "Sweet Bird of Truth" (UK #55). Although it only peaked at 14 in the UK Albums Chart, it stayed on the chart for 30 weeks, making it by far The The's most commercially successful album.[2]

Writing and composition[edit]

The first single from the album, "Heartland", held particular significance for Johnson. Describing it as "probably the best song I've ever written", he said, "I'm attacking those working class Tories and middle class who still think Britain is on a par economically with France and Germany... I wanted to write a classic song which is basically representative of its time, a record that in 1999 people will put on and it will remind them exactly of this period of time... you know it took 18 months to write on and off because I knew it was the most important song I was writing."[3]

"Sweet Bird of Truth" is about the USA's military involvement in Middle East politics. Johnson said, "The idea of that single was to provide a musical interpretation of the sort of cultural conflict that occurs when the ultimate Western power takes on the sort of Eastern fundamentalism that you'll find in the Arab nations."[4] Johnson wanted to release "Sweet Bird of Truth" as the album's first single in April 1986, but this coincided with the US bombing of Libya, and with the song's lyrics critical of US military involvement in the Middle East, CBS were unwilling to release and promote the single. In the end it was released as a low-key limited edition single and deleted on the day of release. Johnson said, "The day I went in to tell them I wanted to release the single, they'd just been told by Special Branch to take their American flags down, since, as an American multi-national, they were a possible target for Libyan bombing. So I prepared a statement for the press, but apparently the [UK national daily newspapers] were told not to print it, because they could then be held responsible if CBS were bombed."[4]

Johnson described "Slow Train to Dawn" as "about the psychological relationship between two people and the weakness of the male in that relationship, and infidelity, which is borne from insecurity and weakness".[5] He admitted that the song was partly autobiographical, saying, "I get myself into a lot of difficult situations. I feel I have to live out what I write about out. I don't feel it's fair if I've never done the things I'm singing about. So I've done everything. I've lived out the lives of the characters."[3] In Johnson's mind "Twilight of a Champion" was set in Chicago, despite filming the video in New York: "When I wrote the song, I created this scene where I was in this Chicago skyline at the top of a building and had become everything I wanted to become, but had sold my soul. There's the young boy and the old man, and I'm in the middle, between innocence and corruption."[5] "Mercy Beat" is "essentially about spiritual salvation which is why I wanted to do [the video for the song] in South America, because of the heavy influence of Catholicism and Americana".[3]

Infected video film[edit]

To promote the album Johnson decided to make a video for each track. Johnson gave his reasons for this unusual form of promotion in an interview with NME:

"I came to a crossroads in my career really. Having not played live for three and a half years and having such a low profile – for instance not having my picture on my sleeves – I decided to raise the whole stakes of the thing and risk becoming known a lot more as a personality, which is not really something I'm keen on."[3]

Johnson and his manager Stevo persuaded CBS Records to advance £350,000 to make the videos, a then unheard of sum of money for a little known act.[3] The project began by filming a video for "Heartland" at Greenwich Power Station,[4] directed by Peter Christopherson, and then "Sweet Bird of Truth", directed by Mark Romanek. It was when Johnson and Christopherson flew to South America to film the videos for "Infected" and "Mercy Beat" that events started to spiral out of control. Filming in the Peruvian jungle in Iquitos, Johnson used the services of a local Indian tribe as guides. The Indians introduced Johnson, already an enthusiastic user of drugs, to the hallucinogenic concoctions used in their tribal rituals. The video for "Mercy Beat" captures a scene where during filming the crew were attacked by a rally of Communist rebel fighters, angry at the appearance of what they considered Western intruders. Johnson confirmed that the scene was genuine and unscripted, and admitted that at the time he was "so high", recalling the madness that had ensued: "Someone produced a snake which I was grappling with, and I hate snakes. A monkey bit me, and then me and this guy, who I'd only just met, cut each other and we became blood brothers, rubbing blood over each other's face, stuff like that."[6] "Infected"'s opening scenes picture Johnson strapped to a chair on board a boat sailing down a river in the jungle: Johnson said that he had wanted the opening of the film "to be like that Klaus Kinski movie Fitzcarraldo".[7]

After spending a month in the Amazon jungle, Johnson flew back to New York to shoot the video for "Out of the Blue" with Tim Pope in the Spanish Harlem district. In keeping with the song's lyrical theme, part of the video was filmed in a brothel next door to a crack house. The police protected the film crew until 1 o'clock in the morning, before pulling out saying they could no longer guarantee the crew's safety. The already tense situation was exacerbated by Johnson, who had been drinking heavily and had become progressively more aggressive, and provoked the crack dealers by throwing a bottle against the wall near them.[6] Johnson and Pope also shot the video for "Twilight of a Champion" in New York, which includes a scene where the singer places a gun loaded with live bullets in his mouth. Johnson explained his actions by saying, "I wanted to see what it felt like. To have all that power, to be so close to dying. It's incredible."[7] The final two videos for the album were filmed back in the UK, with "Angels of Deception" directed by Alastair McIlwain and "Slow Train to Dawn" directed by Pope. The video for "Slow Train to Dawn" features Neneh Cherry, who duets with Johnson on the track, tied to a railway line while Johnson pilots a train towards her. Pope later dismissed his work on the video, saying, "I hate that one. It's pretentious and kind of stupid."[6]

The completed film was premiered at the Electric Cinema in west London, and first shown on British television on Channel 4 on 16 December 1986,[3] followed by a showing on MTV. It was shown at independent cinemas across the world and released on VHS video early in 1987. It has never been released on DVD.

Despite critical acclaim for both the album and accompanying video film, the making of Infected took its toll on Johnson. Already unwell and suffering from bouts of paralysis before making the film due to his heavy intake of vodka and drugs, Johnson's failure to look after his health and insistence on pushing the boundaries during the making of the videos had a lasting impact. He separated from his girlfriend of five years (graphic designer Fiona Skinner, who created the The The logo) and had to step back from music for a time in order to recover his physical and mental health. Pope recalled that he had not particularly liked Johnson during filming as he had become arrogant, a fact acknowledged by Johnson when he reflected in 2002 on the making of the album, telling Mojo, "I took a long hard look at myself and realised I didn't like the way I was acting... That initial flush of success is a toxin, it really warps people's personalities for the worse and I didn't like what it did to me."[6]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic4.5/5 stars[8]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music4/5 stars[9]
Q4/5 stars[10]
Record Mirror4/5 stars[11]
Sounds4/5 stars[12]

The reviews from the British music magazines upon Infected's release in 1986 were mostly very positive, with reviewers impressed by the bleakness of the lyrics and the strength of Johnson's vision. Melody Maker stated, "Kicking concepts of democratic creativity in the kidneys, Johnson has justifiably come out with a one-man vision of terrifying proportions".[13] Sounds claimed that "there's self-controlled passion and strength seeping out all over this thing"[12] while Q described the album as "grim stuff, with the lyrical tension well-matched by the music. Imagine a bizarre collision between Soft Cell and Tom Waits and you might get some idea of the disparate elements sloshing around in each of these songs."[10] Record Mirror opined that "coming to any judgement about this new record is quite daunting. What becomes clear, however, is that we are dealing with something special... Two sides of this intense brooding can be a bit much to take though, and the lyrics are at times self-consciously poetic, but these are minor complaints. Infected might not be a particularly optimistic record, but it is rather a good one."[11] Only NME was critical of the album, describing it as "shocking" but then pondering, "The question is – and it's one that was endlessly asked of Low – what remains after the initial impact, my shock, wears off? The answer to that will vary, naturally, from one burning blue soul to the next; for me, the lasting afterglow is one of detachment... In the final analysis, living with Infected is like having one of those vast, mirror-windowed office blocks built across the road from your front door. You can't fail to notice it, and you'll be impressed, sure. But you won't grow to love it."[14]

AllMusic said, "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... Infected was the first true indication of Johnson's mercurial nature, and established the dissonance and reinvention of his later work."[8]


Record Mirror placed Infected at number 3 in its year end list of the best albums of 1986, and "Heartland" at number 4 in the equivalent singles list.[15]

In 2000 Q placed Infected at number 99 in its list of the "100 Greatest British Albums Ever".


Artwork by Andy Johnson. Fiona Skinner, who created the iconic The The logo, again took an existing font which she copied and ‘distressed’ then created transfers for Andrew Johnson to use in the final artwork


  • "Heartland" - reached No. 29 (UK) in August 1986
  • "Infected" - reached No. 48 (UK) in October 1986
  • "Slow Train to Dawn" - reached No. 64 (UK) in January 1987; Matt Johnson's vocals accompanied by Neneh Cherry
  • "Sweet Bird of Truth" - reached No. 55 (UK) in May 1987; Matt Johnson's vocals accompanied by Anna Domino

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written and composed by Matt Johnson, except where noted.

  1. "Infected" – 4:49
  2. "Out of the Blue (Into the Fire)" – 5:10
  3. "Heartland" – 5:01
  4. "Angels of Deception" – 4:37
  5. "Sweet Bird of Truth" – 5:22
  6. "Slow Train to Dawn" – 4:14
  7. "Twilight of a Champion" (Johnson, Roli Mosimann) – 4:22
  8. "The Mercy Beat" – 7:22
CD bonus tracks
  1. "Infected" (12" version) – 6:12
  2. "Sweet Bird of Truth" (12" version) – 7:37
  3. "Slow Train to Dawn" (12" version) – 6:36


Chart (1986) Peak
Australian Albums (Kent Music Report)[16] 15
Dutch Albums (Album Top 100)[17] 46
New Zealand Albums (RMNZ)[18] 12
Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)[19] 14
Swedish Albums (Sverigetopplistan)[20] 20
UK Albums (OCC)[21] 14

Release history[edit]

Region Date Label Format Catalog
United Kingdom & Europe 17 November 1986 Some Bizzare/Epic LP EPC 26770
cassette EPC 40 26770
CD CD EPC 26770
United States 1986 LP FE 40471
cassette ET 40471
CD EK 40471
Canada LP PEC 90746
cassette PECT 90746
CD EK 90746
United Kingdom & Europe 1990 EPC 488611 2
United States & Canada 2 July 2002 Epic EK 86615
United Kingdom & Europe 5 August 2002 5044662000


  1. ^ "Record News". NME. London, England: IPC Media: 43. 15 November 1986.
  2. ^ David Roberts, ed. (2006). British Hit Singles and Albums. Guinness World Records Limited. p. 555. ISBN 978-1904994107.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Pye, Ian (13 December 1986). "Flying in the Face of Fear". NME. London, England: IPC Media: 12–13 & 42.
  4. ^ a b c Watson, Don (12 July 1986). "Mad Dogs & Englishmen". NME. London, England: IPC Media: 10–11.
  5. ^ a b Page, Betty (27 December 1986 – 3 January 1987). "Matt Johnson". Record Mirror. London, England: Spotlight Publications: 8–11.
  6. ^ a b c d Higgs, John (July 2002). "Straight to Hell". Mojo. London, England: EMAP (104): 70–72.
  7. ^ a b Mathur, Paul (13 December 1986). "Sights for Sick Souls". Melody Maker. London, England: IPC Media: 23.
  8. ^ a b Loftus, Johnny. "Infected – The The". AllMusic. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
  9. ^ Larkin, Colin (2011). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th concise ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-85712-595-8.
  10. ^ a b Heath, Chris (November 1986). "Review: The The – Infected". Q. London, England: EMAP (2): 76.
  11. ^ a b Bailie, Stuart (22 November 1986). "Review: The The – Infected". Record Mirror. London, England: Spotlight Publications: 12.
  12. ^ a b Brown, Glyn (22 November 1986). "Review: The The – Infected". Sounds. London, England: Spotlight Publications: 24.
  13. ^ Mathur, Paul (22 November 1986). "Review: The The – Infected". Melody Maker. London, England: IPC Media: 27.
  14. ^ Kelly, Danny (22 November 1986). "Review: The The – Infected". NME. London, England: IPC Media: 35.
  15. ^ "The RM Staff Chart". Record Mirror. London, England: Spotlight Publications: 19. 26 December 1986 – 3 January 1987.
  16. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992. St Ives, NSW: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  17. ^ " – The The – Infected" (in Dutch). Hung Medien.
  18. ^ " – The The – Infected". Hung Medien.
  19. ^ " – The The – Infected". Hung Medien.
  20. ^ " – The The – Infected". Hung Medien.
  21. ^ "The The | Artist | Official Charts". UK Albums Chart.

External links[edit]