The genius of The Jesus And Mary Chain is how they marketed misery and have created joy in misery’s followers rather like Morrissey, rescued from misery by perpetuating it. Their 2008 box set release The Power Of Negative Thinking says it all.
Somehow on their latest album, Damage And Joy and the opening track Amputation they sound more and more like a light Shoegaze Hawkwind. Interestingly after having seen Hawkwind at Loreley, Germany, last year, it’s Hawkwind that sound like an edgy Punk band and The Jesus And Mary Chain that sound like easy accessible Pop, with the absence of dominant fuzzy guitars, relegated to the background for a friendlier sound that fellow Scots Altered Images might be more at home with. Although Jim Reid isn’t cute when he sings “I hate my brother and he hates me, that’s the way it’s supposed to be” even the bitterness seems toned down. One wonders about the circumstances of this hatred but then there’s the Gallaghers, Ray and Dave Davies and The Everly Brothers to study.
The single Always Sad sounds like The Velvet Underground meets The Ramones played by The Cowsills. It features Isobel Campbell on duet duties (those of you that followed my tenure with Sweet Gum Tree will recall that I played bass on the song Birds Of Passage from The Snakes You Charm And The Wolves You Tame album released in 2014 – featuring Isobel Campbell dueting with project brain Arno Sojo). Female voices appear throughout the record in the form of the Reid brothers’ sister Linda Fox aka Sister Vanilla and Sky Ferreira.
Sometimes the album’s sixties feel has teen Beach Boys surf influences (I’m waiting to hear them do Surfin’ Safari) and one wonders whether producer Youth (Martin Glover) is responsible for the breezy sand swept sound after establishing himself as a ‘proper’ producer, that is, slick sounding rather than edgy as his work with McCartney’s Fireman project or The Orb and Dave Gilmour’s collaboration, Metallic Spheres reveals. It’s a long way from Killing Joke and for The Jesus And Mary Chain, it’s a long way from Phil Spector, the reverb and the distortion.
With real drums on just one track (Mood Rider) the whole album feels ‘honey light’ and although it’s not unusual for this band to use machines as part of their sound, it seems that this year’s model, this year’s mix, this year’s idea of alternative sound doesn’t excite sonically and one wonders what happens to scary indie heroes when they get older. Although the words that pop out from the songs, are laced with the usual Reid wit and they stand apart from the mainstream, you can understand why young souls searching for meaning in music might prefer Metal or Hip Hop, sonically and or lyrically and the meaningful bands of the eighties flounder as they struggle to recapture their heyday continuing to appeal almost exclusively to their original fan base.
In the end, what you must remember is that this is the first album in 19 years and a lot has happened since Just Like Honey and really they were always melodic and light on the vocals and now that sensibility has come to include William Reid’s guitars whereas the contrast of sweet and sour, for me, was the point. The Jesus And Mary Chain seem to have landed in the same field as latterday Echo And The Bunnymen, jettisoning all the dangerous explosive fuel and gliding down onto the middle-aged meadow. In the case of The Jesus And Mary Chain you’d think after such a long hiatus they might not have returned rehashing some older solo songs, or like Echo And The Bunnymen spent 20 years treading water and for both bands missing the killer songs of their past.
To get the best out of this band see them live on a good night and hear the old classics and the best tracks from the new record mixed with sunglasses, cigarette smoke and an aloof presentation, clapping inside.