Artists: The Jesus And Mary Chain

8 01 2012

Alex Kapornokos from Franz Ferdinand once said that there are only ever about three bands from each decade who really matter. If that is true, then one of three from the 1980s is certainly The Jesus and Mary Chain, a band endless imitated, but rarely matched.

In fact it is probably fair to say that pretty much every British guitar album over the following twenty years owes its biggest debt to either The Smiths The Queen is Dead or The JAMC’s Psychocandy. The two albums came out within eight months of each other – the Mary Chain’s début arriving first in late 1985, The Smiths most enduring album arriving in June 1986. They divided the music press in two.

JAMC were made up of two brothers, William and Jim Reid. In their earliest, most celebrated incarnation they also features Bobby Gillespie (later the Primal Scream frontman) on drums. Their early shows were thrilling, punk affairs, often lasting only 20 minutes and causing riots. 

When it came to releasing their first album, the classic Psychocandy, it became obvious that they actually only had one trick, but a brilliant new trick it was. Essentially they married their love of girl-group pop songs with Velvet Underground style noise. The great thing about the record is that the noise is not the most important feature, the Reid brothers love of classic melodies seeps through, and sometimes it sounds like someone is making loads of feedbacky noise in the next room, and they just couldn’t be bothered to make it go away.

The other noticable thing about the record is how thrilling it still sounds, over 25 years later. With alot of things that were the shock of the new when they arrived, they sound less thrilling with age, but Psychocandy, and its preceding single, Upside Down (which was put out on Creation) still packs an incredible punch.

JAMC were also different from The Smiths in that where they were singing about how Meat is Murder, here were some Scottish boys wearing leather and sunglasses. While The Smiths were new in how they looked and what they talked about, JAMC set about reinventing the rock ‘n’ roll myth, borrowing its iconography to recreate a “coolness” that perhaps the Manchester band was lacking.

Like The Smiths, JAMC had a distinct love of pop songs, which would shine through on their next two records. The first, Darklands produced two of their very best songs, April Skies and Happy When It Rains. It lacks perhaps the noisy thrill of Psychocandy, but contains a lyrical sharpness that the first album lacked. Bobby Gillespie had left the group by now, on the long road to his own stardom, the Reid brothers simply replaced him with a drum machine.

The surprising thing about a band with such a legend is that it is built almost entirely on the first two albums. The third, Automatic is where things started to unravel. It is a fully fledged grasp at trying to do a full on pop album, and certainly has its defenders (Pitchfork described it as “A career peak” cementing its status as the hipster JAMC album de jour) but it is a hit and miss affair, and is a way from the noisy excitement of Psychocandy.

No-one ever talks about the 90s albums, Honey’s Dead (the title a reference to the Honey of track one from Psychocandy), Stoned and Dethroned (a decent effort from a band reaching its later years) and the super-negative Munki (not even the band seem to remember this existing, they didn’t bother to remaster it for the recent reissue campaign) but it didn’t matter, thier legend was secure already.

After finding little success apart, they reunited, but appear to enjoy disappearing from the radar every now and then. As far back as 2008, Jim Reid has been talking about a new album sporadically, but all that has appeared is an epic box set of rarities and repackaged versions of the original albums. Perhaps we will see them return again, but either way their influence is going to be continually felt, via Blur, My Bloody Valentine, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Horrors and countless others.

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2 responses

12 01 2012
Matthew Jones

I’m completely biased because I worked on the recent JAMC reissues, but just to correct a factual point – Munki was included in the recent reissues and the band certainly remember it existing. It’s also the most consistently overlooked part of their back catalogue and one of the great lost albums of the 90s!

12 01 2012
robstevens156

It wasn’t even mentioned in the reviews for the reissues, how odd!

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