Alternative rock was at a weird place in 1993. Pearl Jam and Nirvana ruled the roost with angst and volume, but the rock charts sported a zeitgeisty mix of hits from New Order, Lenny Kravitz, Duran Duran, Primus, Living Colour and Midnight Oil. Smack dab in the middle was The The’s “Love Is Stronger Than Death,” a perfect slice of organ-drenched melancholia with an indelible acoustic-guitar riff. The track is the centerpiece of Dusk, a rewarding trip through the bruised psyche of vibrato-loving vocalist Matt Johnson.
With Johnson as its only constant, London’s The The had been around for more than a decade prior to Dusk with middling success, but younger fans weaned on the Smiths came aboard in droves this time around, spurred on by “Death” and MTV favorite “Dogs Of Lust.” “Have you ever wanted something so badly that it possessed your body and your soul?” demands Johnson on opener “True Happiness This Way Lies,” Dusk‘s first of many I-crave-what-I-can’t-have laments.
While Johnson’s outlook teeters from bleak to cautiously hopeful, Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr conjures the perfect musical moods throughout, adding signature guitar and harmonica touches to the could’ve-been-a-Smiths-hit “Slow Emotion Replay” and a funky flash of wah-wah to “Sodium Light Baby.” Marr told me in 2002 he was as proud of Dusk as the Smiths’ Strangeways, Here We Come, and it’s clear why: Few albums from this period offer a message so in synch with the accompanying music. [www.thethe.com]