When the Jesus and Mary Chain emerged in the mid-‘80s, they were a breath of fresh air in a stench of photogenic synth-pop bands.Fronted by brothers William and Jim Reid, their dark, distortion-heavy music was a resounding ‘fuck you’ to mainstream pop. And ironically, underneath the somber lyrics was a catchy and melodic sensibility, albeit in a very twisted and edgy form. In their wake, the band has proved influential–one can hear it in a band such as Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
The Jesus and Mary Chain’s debut album Psychocandy, is regarded as their best and a classic. A near-perfect recreation of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound with its “Be My Baby”-inspired drum beats, Psychocandy introduced the world to the group’s trademark sound of fuzz-toned, buzz-sawed guitars (which are aplenty here), Jim’s sly and sinister vocals, and bold, devil-may-care lyrics. To those hearing this album for the first time in 1985, this big Wall of Noise was a shock to the system for those accustomed to over–the-slick production that was characteristic that decade. As abrasive those songs are, they are also very tuneful such as the gorgeous Just Like Honey, Never Understand (which sounds like a classic Beach Boys song on speed), and the fetching “You Trip Me Up.” Clearly on the basis of this album, the Chain was one of the first band in the ‘80s to channel the spirit of the Velvet Underground at a time when the Velvets were still a cult band—the Reid brothers captured the Velvets’ sense of deadpan cool and attitude (not to mention an affinity for noise) letter-perfectly
Flash forward seven years later to Honey’s Dead (1992), in which the band has ‘matured,’ if that is the right word, away from the stark minimalism of the debut with a cleaner and more groovy, funky sound a la Soup Dragons, Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses. The album title itself can be interpreted as a reaction to “Just Like Honey” on the debut—a statement of ‘This is how far we’ve come.” There is a reckless joyous abandon and a beauty out of ugliness quality in some of the album’s most inspired tracks such as “Far Gone and Out” and the very controversial “Reverence” (with its lyrics “I wanna die just like Jesus Christ/I wanna die just like JFK”). Though the use of guitar as noise box still permeates, the brothers also channel their aggressive energies to create something tuneful and lovely as on “Almost Gold,” which it is.
That approach of the last song segues into the Reids’ next left-of-field record. Just when you think you figured out the group they turn around and record Stoned and Dethroned (1994). A predominantly acoustic album with the fuzz toned down significantly, Stoned and Dethroned is a lovelym countrified record—even the trippier moments reveal a sort of charm. For the first time, the Reid brothers collaborate with outsiders: Shane McGowan on the pleading hymn “God Help Me” and Hope Sandoval on “Sometimes Always,” (the latter’s duet with Jim Reid recalls the classic sides of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood. Traces of irony can be found on “Come On,” which exudes a country-like feel; and “Girlfriend,” which is more about a relationship rut. Like the imagery on the album cover, the record is a perfect travel companion on that lone desolate highway.
Each of the aforementioned albums, as well as Darklands and Automatic, were reissued as Dualdiscs that also contains videos of singles (gotta love the big ’80s hair on the video for “Just Like Honey”).