Psychocandy; Darklands; Automatic; Honey's Dead; Stoned
By: Eric Greenwood
If you only know three chords, play them loudly. The Jesus and Mary Chain took this axiom and turned it on its head. With a cache of predictable influences, Scottish brothers Jim and William Reid turned underground music into a freak show in the mid-'80's in England. On paper the band's brilliance doesn't seem very exciting: slow The Velvet Underground down to half speed, toss off some Beach Boys harmonies infused with depraved vulgarity, and drench it all in as much reverb, feedback, and squalling distortion as possible.
Psychocandy, the essential soundtrack for affected teen ennui, introduced The Jesus and Mary Chain's unique formula with riotous underground fanfare. No one could have predicted that such rudimentary music could sound so simultaneously fractured, blissed-out, and alive, but the Reid brothers' stoic nonchalance turned out to be one of the most influential sounds since The Velvet Underground itself.
The band's superior sense of melody certainly helped its difficult music affect so many listeners. With calculated machismo, an endless arsenal of power pop sensibilities, and layers upon layers of noise, Psychocandy was the touchstone for practically every late-'80's/early '90's underground band, including My Bloody Valentine and Dinosaur Jr. And it's arguably responsible for the entire shoegaze movement all by itself. The hollow frailty of perverted classics like "Just like Honey" and "My Little Underground" proved the Reid brothers to be masterful pop craftsmen hiding behind a wall of incessant cacophony. The elements might not have been original, but the sum certainly was.
Abandoning its singular sonic identity with as much blithe disaffection as was inherent to their music, the Reid brothers followed up their landmark debut with only barely recognizable remains. Without a squealing guitar in sight, Darklands bravely tested the band's fanbase with a collection of maudlin guitar pop, focusing on its dour sense of melody and penchant for '60's folk arrangements. Only very faint background fuzz relates it to Psychocandy's joyful dissonance.
The result annoyed most critics and hardcore fans who longed for Psychocandy 2, but the songs themselves didn't need any gimmicky aural horror to sustain interest. The first single, "April Skies", proved Jim Reid's rumbling baritone could hold its own without a showy backdrop, and the title track rose to the level of anything off Psychocandy. The only hindrance to the album was its reliance on stuttering drum machines, which make it sound awkwardly dated, especially on this remaster.
The brothers had long since lost their underground sway by 1989's Automatic. Cashing in on a burgeoning alternative celebrity status, they quickly became late night MTV darlings with the success of "Head On", a straightforward rocker that mixed T. Rex flash with a seedy, biker edginess. It was the band's biggest hit to date, which the Pixies would cover only two years later with even greater success on its final album, Trompe Le Monde.
For all its lazy, trigger-fire production and commercial swagger, Automatic showcased a respectable, if slightly ho-hum, batch of tunes. The aggro "Blues from a Gun" and the obvious Lou Reed homage, "Halfway to Crazy", being the standouts.
With the controversial hook, "I wanna die just like Jesus Christ" ("Reverence"), The Jesus and Mary Chain returned better than ever in 1992 on Honey's Dead . Avoiding much of Automatic's stale rock bravado, the brothers branched out to incorporate dance beats effectively for the first time. The band's dynamism focused on dramatic tonal shifts, which brought back a much more controlled version of Psychocandy's hair-raising feedback. It's a tense and ominous record seething with muted aggression and studio mastery.
Once again overreacting to the noise, The Reid brothers pulled in the reins for Stoned & Dethroned, a breezy, country/folk album recorded with a full band. The threat of violent bursts of guitar squalor hangs heavy over the record, and it's that sense of menace that keeps the laid back atmosphere in check.
Rhino has reissued these five albums in a remastered, DualDisc format with an advanced resolution DVD side. The extras are fairly thin, tacking on the videos from each record with few rarities, but if your stereo can accommodate the superior sound upgrade, these discs are definitely worth your time. Candy-coated harmonies draped in howling feedback never sounded so good.
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