On November 17th, 1986 The The released their second studio album Infected via Some Bizzare/Epic Records.
The album produced four singles, including the best-selling “Heartland”. the album’s first which held a particular significance for Johnson who describes it as “probably the best song I’ve ever written”.
On the song’s political themes, he goes on to say:
“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.”
The video for “Heartland” was filmed at Greenwich Power Station and was directed by Peter Christopherson of Coil.
Johnson and Christopherson famously flew to South America to film the videos for “Infected” and “Mercy Beat” where things went off the rails due to psychedelic drugs provided by local native tribes.
The video for “Mercy Beat” actually captures a scene where during filming the crew were attacked by a rally of Communist rebel fighters. Johnson was also bitten by a monkey.
“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.”
Johnson had initially 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, so the record label decided to give it an extremely limited release.
The video for “Sweet Bird of Truth”, directed by Mark Romanek, who would later direct Nine Inch Nails video for “Closer”. Unfortunately, the video does not seem to be available online at this time.
“Slow Train to Dawn” directed by Tim Pope, features Neneh Cherry, who duets with Johnson on the track.
Johnson described the autobiographical track “Slow Train to Dawn” as being 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”.
On how this relates to him personally, he continues:
“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.”
Tim Pope also directed “Twilight of a Champion”, which 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.” “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”.
Pope also filmed the video for “Out of the Blue” during the time in New York as well.
Angels of Deception” directed by Alastair McIlwain, who was an animator on Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and Heavy Metal.