The Jesus and Mary Chain
The Jesus and Mary Chain are a band that use simple emotions to great effect. Their songs might be “easy” sounding to some with only a few chords and drum patterns used over and over, but to do a lot with nothing is just as hard AND as interesting as doing something complicated. They have many great pop songs, along with many great albums and album tracks. They are of that rare breed that makes great albums along with perfect singles. Each of their albums has a distinct sound for sure, so if you heard a song separate from the record you could pinpoint where it came from. Though they have at least three great records (Psychocandy, Honey’s Dead, Munki), they are best as a singles band, and their 21 Singles compilation is great to begin your collection with. To say this band was heavily influential is an understatement: My Bloddy Valentine, Yo La Tengo, Mazzy Star, The Primitives, Pixies, Urge Overkill, Interpol, BRMC, none of these bands would be quite the same without the awesome influence of the J&M Chain. Their best songs, “Sometimes Always”, “Just Like Honey”, “Catchfire”, “Blues from a Gun”, “Cracking Up”, strike deep emotions most people didn’t know they had in them.
The Velvet Underground, The Ramones, Suicide, The Beach Boys, The Stooges
1985 – (5 / 5) − Psychocandy
1987 – (4 / 5) − Darklands
1989 – (3 / 5) − Automatic
1992 – (5 / 5) − Honey’s Dead
1994 – (3.5 / 5) − Stoned and Dethroned
1998 – (4.5 / 5) − Munki
Psychocandy – (5 / 5)
Psychocandy is in a league of its own, for many reasons: for a debut this is daring stuff; it combines feedback with pop melodies, which is hardly a genre or anything (it means they loved The Velvet Underground and The Beach Boys!), but it was influential; mainly it transcends its time while simultaneously being an easily recognizable disciple of it. This album had to come from the 1980’s, but when the first verse of “Just Like Honey” comes in, it sounds so good that you might forget you are listening to a song and not flying around the universe. This is an album that is more than the sum of its parts that varies between rockers and ballads, soft and harsh, ever so fluidly. Once the initial impact and sound are drilled in to your head, you cannot make yourself hate this record.
A lot of the songs sound alike, eh? Whether they use the same drum beats (“Some Candy Talking” and “Cut Dead”), have the same driving rhythm (“The Living End” and “Inside Me”), or have feedback so loud you might wanna turn the treble down on your stereo (all of them), each song on here is a separate entity that would sound great as a single, but sounds even better in the context of an album. A lot of great albums are like this: Exile on Main Street and Zen Arcade to name some precedents, Loveless and Bee Thousand to name some decedents. These kinds of records have a personality to them, a mood. The best quality this album has though is not the feedback pop gimmick, it’s the consistency, because at least thirteen out of the fifteen songs are GREAT. Psychocandy is not some one trick pony – it is a great idea executed impeccably, and there is no other album just like it.
Greatest Songs: Inside Me, Just Like Honey, Taste the Floor, My Little Underground
Darklands – (4 / 5)
The second J&M album destroys any kind of feedback melody label, but maintains the “pop” mood of the previous album. The band shows they are great at creating atmosphere with minimal instrumentation; hell, that might be their strongest point. The opening salvo is a nice one-two-three jolt of “Darklands” the sing-a-long, “Deep One perfect Morning” the introspection, and “Happy When It Rains” the combination of both. The rest of the record is entertaining enough, but not even the latter single quality of “April Skies” or dementia of “Nine Millions Rainy Days” can prove as entertaining as the beginning. Maybe that is the records only down point: bad pacing. Psychocandy had perfect pacing where everything worked, but Darklands meanders too much for its own good. The best song might be the closer “About You”, an acoustic ditty. Hey, why not throw that in at the end? It’s just the impression the album leaves on you is very….harmless. The album is a good listen for sure, but it could be more intriguing, and really is more of a die hard fan purchase than a stand out record.
Greatest Songs – Happy When it Rains, About You, Darklands, Deep One Perfect Morning
Automatic – (3 / 5)
Automatic is another step down in the Jesus and Mary Chain catalogue. Maybe…one third of the songs on here are great, the rest is just OBVIOUS DRUM MACHINE!!! BOOM CHICK BOOM CHICK BOOM CHICK…….CHCHCHCHCCHHICK!!!! When there is a standout track, boy does it stick out like a sore thumb. “Blues From a Gun” and “Head On” especially are just like, “Well, there’s a single. What’s next?” UV Ray? What is this garbage?!?!” However, it’s not that bad, as most songs vary between kinda good and kinda boring. Average. Mundane. The Mission Impossible movies. You get it. There are some nice presents for the patient listener: “Gimme Hell” is the band’s most twisted rocker, while “Halfway to Crazy” and “Drop” are among the band’s more underrated songs. Lyric sample: “Tongue tied and tiiiied to the tongue.” There’s a disturbing image! I don’t know what “Sunray” is; at first I liked it, now I don’t. Kind of like the record as a whole, oh wait- I never liked it that much. The band is heading toward a rut of over-produced 80’s tripe on Automatic, so the name sure does fit.
Greatest Songs – Head On, Blues From a Gun, Gimme Hell, Halfway to Crazy
Honey’s Dead – (5 / 5)
A good three year break has done the band well. Regrouped and ready for action, Honey’s Dead is the best album the band has done since Psychocandy. Hell, it’s nearly as good as that one is! Gone is the dated production of Automatic, though this is still dance music for sure. There is still a very demented edge to some of the songs, and it flows between rockers and ballads like other J&M albums. Its pure pop at heart though, and quite the transition for the band. Really the singles and album tracks kinda blur together to make a cohesive whole. “Far Gone and Out”, “Rollercoaster”, and “Sugar Ray” are obvious stand outs, but they are no better than the chilling “Teenage Lust” and “Catchfire” or ballads “Almost Gold” and “Good for my Soul”. “Catchfire” is actually my favorite track on here, and it is well embedded in the fabric of the record. Maybe some songs, “Tumbledown” and “I Can’t Get Enough” in particular, are not quite as strong as the rest, but really the album flows well form begging to end and it is hard to notice a lull at all. A great driving record, party record, really a solid anytime record, and the band’s second masterpiece to date.
Greatest Songs – Catchfire, Sugar Ray, Rollercoaster, Teenage Lust
Stoned and Dethroned – (3.5 / 5)
This album is a different tone than any previous record, which is not a bad idea. Dance pop is great, but greater depth is attempted on here; the title is pretty accurate. Problem is, the album is too long at seventeen songs and is spotty throughout. Much effort is required to get a feel of the record, and if you just kinda let it flow like Honey’s Dead, you will be bored quite often. The good news is there are some great high points. “Between Us” could have been right off of Darklands; “Come On” is just plain fun; “Hole” is a typical negative-condition-state-of-mind roller; and “Sometimes Always” just has to be heard. The band’s best song, it is a pure flowing duet between William Reid and Hope Sandoval (singer for the great Mazzy Star). The song is only two chords, but never has the band sounded more confident or majestic; it is the harsh reality of a relationship thrown into one of the most melodic pop songs ever recorded. After those four great tracks, there is plenty of good on here. “Never Saw it Coming”, “She”, “Girlfriend”, “Feeling Lucky”, among many others, are GOOD songs, but about four songs such as “Bullet Lovers” (stuck right at track two), “Save Me”, “God Help Me”, and “These Days” could and should have been cut. The album is too long to listen to without wanting to skip some stuff, so it is very flawed. But the good is good, and for just “Sometimes Always” alone, the great is even better.
Greatest Songs – Sometimes Always, Hole, Wish I Could, Come On
Munki – (4.5 / 5)
Munki is a glorious mess, a jamboree of experimentation and fun. Like the album before it there are seventeen songs, but unlike that record, this is an entertaining listen through and through. Jim Reid writes more than William, which is a change of pace, and could be the reason why the record sounds so different than any previous one. No that can’t be it, because there is such a revitalization present that both brothers must be in on it! Ramones, Teenage Jesus, and Velvet Underground influences run rampant on here, and there are many different kind of songs. “Virtually Unreal” is a static prone mess of fun that harks back to Psychocandy in spirit; “Commercial” is the band’s longest song at around seven minutes and it is realllllly out there in strangeness; “Black” is a ballad that is repetitive but unique; “Supertramp” is less an ode to that band than a tale of a super-tramp…..ah who am I trying to fool? Those high background vocals, pop attitude, it’s a Supertramp homage! But it’s good I tells ya!
Most of the album is good, and really, it’s up to personal opinion to pick favorites. “Crackin’ Up” and “I Hate Rock N’ Roll” are probably the best songs, I will say that. It is popular belief that only the fans could love Munki, but really this a great record that any fan of rock music could love. Unfortunately, it is the bands last, and boy to they go out with a bang. They were never a radio charting band and are not millionaires but here their love of music comes through, and they would not have it any other way. They might feel like freaks who are underappreciated, but they will stand the test of time better than most.
Greatest Songs – I Hate Rock n Roll, Cracking Up, Commercial, Perfume
Compilations (Live albums, Ep’s, B-Sides, etc.)
21 Singles – (5 / 5)+
Not much to say here, except that this is a perfect singles collection! It really fits the band, who never had a BAD record, but always had high points on their albums and EP’s that are collected here. “Upsidedown”, “Sidewalking”, and “Snake Driver” come off of different EP’s and they are all good. For once, a greatest hits is chronological and all of the necessary songs are here like “Just Like Honey”, “Darklands”, “Head On”, “Sometimes Always” and “Cracking Up”. Maybe I’d throw in “Gimme Hell” or “Catchfire” personally, but this is pretty stellar stuff, and IDEAL FOR ANYONE WANTING TO GET INTO THIS BAND. There, it has been said.