The Jesus and Mary Chain

TrackAlbum
Just Like HoneyPsychocandy
Taste Of CindyPsychocandy
Happy When It RainsDarklands
April SkiesDarklands
Between PlanetsAutomatic
Head OnAutomatic
Far Gone And OutHoney's Dead
Sometimes AlwaysStoned & Dethroned
GirlfriendStoned & Dethroned
The Two Of UsDamage And Joy

Jesus and Mary Chain photo

The Jesus and Mary Chain (l to r): Bobby Gillespie (drums), William Reid (guitar/vocals), Jim Reid (vocals/guitar), Douglas Hart (bass)

 

 

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Jesus and Mary Chain playlist

 

 

Contributor: Marc Fagel

It’s hard to overstate the impact the Jesus and Mary Chain’s debut Psychocandy had when it first materialized back in 1985. Sure, other bands had merged pure pop with noisy-ass guitars before. The Ramones’ genius was based in part on reviving the Beach Boys and 50s girl-group pop with a wallop of speedy, distorted guitars (albeit with more transgressive lyrical themes); and many of Hüsker Dü’s finest moments (particularly those provided by drummer Grant Hart) filtered chiming pop through Bob Mould’s blast-force guitars.

But brothers Jim and William Reid took it to a new level on Psychocandy; perfect little pop nuggets buried beneath a Phil Spector-worthy wall of distortion and feedback and reverb, sheets of paint-peeling fizzy buzz layered on top of heroin-slathered Jan & Dean outtakes. Countless bands have recycled the formula, disarming retro-pop ratcheted up to 11 with reverb-drenched feedback-riven guitars, most notably the Raveonettes and the early Primitives (upping the girl-group ante) and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club; and various shoegaze bands would adapt the Jesus and Mary Chain’s sonic assault to a more psychedelic, dance-oriented vibe.

Yet Psychocandy is more than just another in a shortlist of ‘influential’ albums revered by critics and hipsters; it’s a flat-out great album, catchy songs that immediately stick in your head, the wall of sound exacerbating their impact but rarely displacing the inherent tunefulness of the songs themselves. Opener Just Like Honey is a sweet, slow ballad which would pass for a Phil Spector classic but for the metallic-clang ambience behind the percussion; Taste Of Cindy is the sound of sing-along beach music as played through pneumatic drills rather than guitars. Songs like Never Understand and My Little Underground and You Trip Me Up are all perfect little pop gems which just happen to be punched up with an overwhelming din.

Rather than try to recreate the unique magic of that debut, the Reids spent the rest of their run gradually stripping away the distortion and feedback, increasingly letting the relentless hooks carry the music.

1987’s follow-up Darklands managed a few more stunning pop songs, tracks like Happy When It Rains and the like-minded April Skies picking up where the debut left off, only with a cleaner sound, still plenty of buzz but with more room to stand on their hooks alone in the absence of that feedback blast. As the album title suggests, Darklands also saw the band embracing a healthy dose of goth (albeit a bubbly, shimmery goth at that), with dark, slow-burning ballads like Deep One Perfect Morning and Nine Million Rainy Days embracing elements of the Cure and Love & Rockets.

1989’s Automatic represented a logical progression, a step closer to more commercially-friendly alt.rock, this time around with more electronic beats bringing the band’s sound adjacent to the emerging sound of shoegaze and Madchester. Between Planets could be the closest the band came yet to infectious bubblegum pop, practically a sing-along, a mood replicated on the equally perky Head On (later covered by the Pixies); Coast To Coast mined similar territory, while Half Way To Crazy slowed it down to half-speed without losing the wondrous hooks. Alas, once you get beyond the catchier tracks, a few tunes drag a bit, a bit of sameness to the songs setting in without the novelty of their early sonic bombast to keep them afloat.

1992’s Honey’s Dead was a bit of a retread, breaking little ground from Automatic and checking in with fewer stand-out tracks, though the upbeat Far Gone And Out was another terrific sing-along pop song, and a few tunes, like the aggressive Sugar Ray and album-opener Reverence, and the infectious Rollercoaster and Tumbledown, retained the electric magic of earlier work. (Meanwhile, closing track Frequency reprises the lyrics of the opening track, set to a reworking of the Modern Lovers’ Roadrunner, introducing some dark levity to the affair.)

Having taken the formula as far as they could, the Jesus and Mary Chain returned in 1994 with a dramatically revamped approach. For Stoned And Dethroned, the band almost entirely jettisoned what was left of the distortion and feedback; a semi-unplugged work that managed to recreate the original wall of sound, this time with shimmering, clean-scrubbed guitars in lieu of feedback and distortion. And somehow it works, the charming hooks of the new songs providing all the electricity that was needed and giving the JAMC new life after the somewhat somber Honey. It doesn’t hurt that the album has a drop-dead ringer in the stunning Sometimes Always, a boy-girl duet with Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval that holds out as, quite simply, one of the finest songs of the 90s. Upbeat tracks like Girlfriend and She are no less bracing for the lack of buzz, as distinctive as anything in the band’s catalog, though the album is dominated by slower, more mid-tempo ballads, with understated tracks like Come On sounding like a new twist on lost classics of the late 60s sunshine pop era.

Alas, the partnership of the Reid brothers proved as fraught with tension as other brother-helmed bands (see e.g. the Kinks, Oasis), and their final album, 1998’s Munki, lacks the cohesiveness of prior work, the band imploding shortly after its release. There are some decent songs to be found – opener I Love Rock N Roll returns to the fizzy, electric pop sounds of Automatic, and it fits in comfortably with their pre-Stoned work; Moe Tucker, sung by the Reids’ sister, is a total hoot, uncharacteristically light and perky. But while it’s not a bad album, arguably more approachable than Honey’s Dead, it’s simply not terribly memorable.

Of course, like many hugely influential alt.rock bands of the 80s and 90s, a reunion was inevitable, and after nearly 20 years of silence, the Reid brothers returned with 2017’s Damage And Joy. It pretty much picks up where Munki left off, and while it doesn’t necessarily add anything essential to the band’s legacy, it’s a surprisingly entertaining release with a few solid tracks that stand up well as part of the JAMC discography. Having learned an important lesson from Sometimes Always and Moe Tucker, the band particularly shines when they bring in female guest vocalists to perk up the tracks. Isobel Campbell joins for another boy-girl duet, the charming The Two Of Us as endearing as anything they’ve done to date. Sky Ferreira and Linda Fox join up for a few tracks as well. A few tunes, like the odd Presidici, stray from the band’s standard formula and prevent the album from simply milking nostalgia.

Throughout the band’s initial run they were astoundingly prolific, recording countless tracks that didn’t make it onto the studio albums. A few years ago, they reissued each of their albums with a bonus disc of extras, many of which are as crucial as the tracks included on the original albums. Many of the singles and B-sides were assembled on various collections along the way, like the excellent Barbed Wire Kisses and The Sound Of Speed, though these were largely rendered moot by the exhaustive 2008 4-CD box set The Power Of Negative Thinking: B-Sides & Rarities, a collection as essential for serious fans as any of their proper albums. (Indeed, I could probably offer an alternate Top 10 comprised solely of non-album tracks, including blistering surf-rockers like Kill Surf City and their Surfin’ USA cover, the slow-groove romp Sidewalking, and the infectious Sometimes.)

 

The Jesus and Mary Chain official website

April Skies – fan site

Some Candy Talking – message board

The Jesus and Mary Chain biography (AllMusic)

Marc Fagel is a semi-retired securities lawyer living outside San Francisco with his wife and his obscenely oversized music collection. He is the author of the rock lover’s memoir “Jittery White Guy Music”. His daily ruminations on random albums in his collection can be seen on his blog of the same name, or by following him on twitter.

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2 Comments

  1. Peter Trenholm
    Jul 3, 2020

    One of the greatest bands ever. But surely you can’t not have their greatest moment, and one of the greatest 7” singles of all time, You Trip Me Up on your Toppermost. Personal opinion of course.

  2. Colin Duncan
    Jul 3, 2020

    I really enjoyed reading the article and learned much about the Jesus and Mary Chain. The band came a bit late for me, but I’m exploring the development of Scottish popular music from the fifties to the present. Before I retired a few years ago, younger colleagues used to kid me that I was too old for the golden age of Scottish rock and used to cite the Jesus and Mary Chain. I noticed that Psychocandy appears in Rolling Stone’s list of 500 greatest albums and I enjoy it. There is a good blog on the album on BBC radio entitled Classic Scottish Albums. I enjoyed reading your well written article and will seek out the tracks I don’t know. Many thanks, Marc.

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