ID40 – Album der Woche : The Jesus And Mary Chain – Damage And Joy
There is guitar music driven by testosterone and showboating, and then there is rock’n’roll made by anaemic runts with a sneer. If you are at all receptive to passive-aggressive siren songs, you’ll have heard of Scotland’s Jesus and Mary Chain.
A pair of dyspeptic brothers (and a supporting cast of long-suffering helpmeets), their misanthropic sulking has always been offset by their sweet tooth – and their jelly legs in the face of girls. After a noisy run in the late 80s and early to mid-90s, when the Mary Chain graduated from being the darlings of the UK music press to transatlantic alt rock lodestones, their last studio album was 1998’s appallingly named Munki. Even by the Mary Chain’s declining standards, it was merely all right and the band split acrimoniously in 1999.
The Jesus and Mary Chain: ‘Pop is dreadful. Switch on a radio, I guarantee it’ll be garbage’
Eighteen years on, Jim and William Reid have gone some way towards fixing the legacy problem. If Damage and Joy isn’t quite the echo of their pomp, neither is it a disappointment. “You know there’s no safety net/ You know this is all we get,” Jim bristles on a revived song called Facing Up to the Facts, which recycles the motorised slouch of their old hit, Sidewalking. After a series of well-received reunion tours, the Reids are rubbing along equably enough to raid their vaults and risk some newer tracks too. It breaks down roughly half and half.
Anyone who remembers side projects such as Freeheat or Sister Vanilla – the Reids plus sister Linda – will recognise The Two of Us. It’s about as happy a three minutes of 60s jangle-pop as Jim has ever committed to tape. If joy is an emotion not often associated with the Mary Chain, the new The Two of Us – now with Scots indie maven Isobel Campbell – belies that tendency. There are more swoons: the previously unheard Always Sad finds Jim trading sweet nothings with William’s actual partner, Bernadette Denning, on her vocal debut.
Damage we’re more familiar with. Lead single Amputation was called Dead End Kids when Jim released it online a decade ago. It, too, is classic Mary Chain, a song that could have sat on 1989’s Automatic. Throughout, the production (by Youth) consists of barely buffing at all, allowing the space in the songwriting to breathe.
In case anyone thought William had mellowed, he’s confessing to shooting Kurt Cobain on Courtney Love’s orders on Simian Split. “I’m a big fat lying slob,” he clarifies. It’s not his finest hour, lyrically. But the controlled chaos of the song’s production (also William) actually moves the Mary Chain’s sound on for the first time in years.