NEIL FRASER – Long Shadows, High Hopes – The Life and Times of Matt Johnson & The The
Fraser’s account is witty and full of charm while simultaneously coming across as utterly serious and devoted to the subject matter at hand. It certainly does feel as if one is reading a no-stone-left-unturned biography, which is obviously a great thing. As opposed to merely relying on interviews conducted by others throughout the years or even press cuttings for that matter, Fraser has sought out not only all those closest to Johnson as well as those who have been a member of (or simply contributed to) The The over the years, but also Matt Johnson himself. That Johnson has cooperated fully with the author is an awesome thing in and of itself, but that he also appears so open and honest throughout the book is what makes it so special. Having said that, what I cherish the most about this book is how well-balanced it is. The author offers a critical perspective on Johnson’s inspired and inspiring discography and career without being oblivious to the fact that some of The The’s recorded outputs are somewhat underwhelming and leave something to be desired. There are a lot of diamonds and treasures to be unearthed within the The The vault for sure, but also a number of failed musical experiments and songs that lack direction, which is something that Fraser is not afraid to point out. Speaking of songs, there is also a fair amount of interesting trivia and information in relation to specific tracks and lyrics and whatnot, but those passages and sections never really take centre stage or change the focus and aim of the book, which is to study and discuss Matt Johnson, the man and artist. The chapters detailing his upbringing in the East End of London are perhaps the most heartfelt and moving ones, but I absolutely loved reading about the times Johnson has spent in New York and why that city and lifestyle appeal(ed) to him.
When I finished reading this book, I felt as if there was nothing more that I could have asked for with respect to a biography on Johnson and The The as this one offers a genuine and honest insight into the rather complicated life of a highly respected and talented artist. My only gripe with this otherwise superb piece of literature is that I found it difficult to discern between the author’s political views (that seem to sneak into the narrative) and those of Matt Johnson and the political messages that are to be found within some of The The’s tunes.
"Long Shadows, High Hopes" is a captivating and entertaining read, but also thought-provoking and slightly melancholy at times. Just as inspiring as it is to read about Johnson’s drive and ambition, it is equally depressing to read about his many artistic and personal frustrations, the financial and legal problems that have plagued him over the years, and the loss of some of his loved ones. Then again, is that not what a proper and well-written biography ought to detail and examine? There is a lot to absorb and digest within its 464 pages, but it is nevertheless highly recommended regardless of whether you are into rock, pop, post-punk, industrial rock, or even experimental metal music.