The The: Dogs of Lust
hen I think about lust, Matt Johnson’s bald head leaps to mind. Obviously, this is if I’m thinking in abstractions—if there’s an actual object to my thoughts, his image is a distant second. Nevertheless, on some cortical back shelf, it’s usually there, and I don’t mind so much.
Johnson’s mug was absent from the cover of Dusk; instead, a vulgar, crimson cartoon soared in front of a cityscape, hand to anguished brow in a classic pose. Dusk and I were in a used-book shop. I was 16, newly licensed, and the title appeared to me a promise: an album full of the gloomy gloamin’. Surprisingly, I was right. And I noticed immediately that I had heard parts of two tracks before (“Slow Emotion Replay” and “Dogs of Lust”)—on VH1’s Where Are They Now? That’s trivia, sure, but quite a coincidence for an album I fished from the dollar rack on the basis of artwork alone. At that time, I couldn’t have told you who Johnny Marr was, let alone that his ringing, muscular fretwork is the meat of the album.
Moving forward. Out of the whole set, “Dogs of Lust” grabbed me first and strongest, partly due to the hooks, general atmosphere, and so on. I also knew that it was achingly true. Forsaking the impish vocal skywiring of his earlier LPs, Matt becomes a human ghoul, his rough baritone fending off his basest impulses. “I keep reaching up,” he moans, “but they drag me back down / Wherever I try to hide / I will always be found.” My Protestant heart warmed to such an anguished affirmation of sin’s power. My infidel lungs mimicked Johnson’s every inflection, covering for the fact that I’d not even had one date in my life to this point.
Right there, see? That was The Accuser’s hand in the song. “Dogs of Lust” is, in its words, an impressionistic rendering of empty desire. Yet its music was lust itself, at least to a dumb kid many years and embarrassments away from manhood. Mr. Marr’s lean guitar cuts a stinging path for the vocals, themselves breathy and compressed. That familiar harmonica held the verses together in steady, sweaty time. The nastiest, sweetest hook of all came at the end, where the repeated theme “when you’re lustful, when you’re lonely, and the heat is rising (rising) slowly”—a taunt of unfinished and unrequited lust (is there any other kind?)—finally hits its peak: the track bottoms out, the word “rising” echoes, distorto voices teasing and pleasing and upping the ante. Immensely satisfying, and the closest thing to climax the track will allow.
See? I spared you (and my girlfriend—love you, Stacey!) specific instances when this song popped, out of sheer necessity, into my conscience. Rest assured it still happens from time to time; that heat is as slow as it comes.