Song of the Day: The The “Uncertain Smile”
“Uncertain Smile” is from difficult to ‘google’ London-based band The The‘s, 1983 debut LP Soul Mining. It is a perfect slice of synth pop featuring a catchy melody and singer/ songwriter/ mastermind Matt Johnson‘s trademark introspective and deeply literate lyrics. They don’t write pop songs quite like this anymore. The song is grounded in a slinky processed guitar line upon which are layered a bouncy rhythm track, romantic synths, Johnson’s foreboding minor key croon and eventually a bluesy piano solo. It shouldn’t work, but as with most of the The The’s output, it all comes together seemingly effortlessly.
In November 1977, Matt Johnson placed an advertisement in NME, asking for “Bass/lead guitarist into The Velvet Underground/Syd Barrett”. Johnson later placed a second advertisement in the NME, stating his new influences as “The Residents/Throbbing Gristle”.
The group specialized in some truly unusual pop songs, with Johnson’s interest in human psychology frequently coming to the forefront. Never big sellers, the group still managed to pick-up a dedicated cult fan base. Over the course of the group’s existence, Johnson collaborated with a diverse range of musicians and non-musicians, freely changing personnel from album to album. Group members have included former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr (who appeared on two The The albums) and famed English neuropsychologist Keith Laws. Johnson put the band were put on musical hiatus for over a decade beginning in 1999, only to re-emerge in 2010 with the group now focusing primarily on scoring movies, including critically acclaimed scores for the films Hyena, Moonbug, and Tony.