"Wouldn't it be great if Einsturzende Neubaten had Shangri-Las songs?" - Jim Reid.
And so heralds the starting point for The Jesus & Mary Chain, a band totally out of place upon their arrival in 1984 yet whose influence and legacy has lived on for three decades since. Indeed, as an impressionable schoolboy in the dead end mining town of Mansfield during the mid-Eighties, hearing the ear-splitting squall of 'You Trip Me Up' sounded like nothing else on earth. Deadpan vocals colliding with a wall of feedback and white noise seemed a million miles away from the synthetic pop of Nik Kershaw and King that filled the airwaves at the time. Despite my initial response being "Is it really meant to sound like that?" it didn't take long to become hooked and ultimately shape my musical palette for the next 26 years. The fractious relationship between brothers Jim and William Reid only served to make The Mary Chain even more real than the sea of poseurs they were swimming against.
Even now in 2011, debut album Psychocandy still sounds as relevant and shocking as it did when first issued in November 1985. Argue the point if you wish but it would be inconceivable to imagine genres such as shoegaze, post-rock, C86 or indeed many of the more leftfield, guitar-based independent sub-genres even existing without Psychocandy paving the way. Imagine a world without My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream, Mogwai, Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth, Nine Inch Nails and many more whose names could be added to that list as we know and admire them? Exactly, impossible to contemplate isn't it. What's more, instead of sticking to the unique formula they created on that initial masterpiece, The Mary Chain evolved with every subsequent release. Some may claim they'd run out of ideas and more probably patience by the time 1998's Munki rang the death knell. Nevertheless, for 14 years they proudly raised two fingers at the mainstream, infiltrating it at their leisure throughout. How many top ten singles can you name that open with the immortal line "I wanna die like Jesus Christ, I wanna die on a bed of spikes"? Uncompromising until the end, if ever a band deserved the remastered box set treatment with added warts and all it would be East Kilbride's finest.
Over the next three weeks, starting with Psychocandy and Darklands on September 26th and finishing with Stoned And Dethroned and Munki on October 10th, each of their six albums is to be re-issued as a triple CD/DVD deluxe box set containing remastered versions, singles and b-sides, demo recordings, live concerts, television appearances and numerous rare and unreleased songs complete with extensive booklets containing interviews with band members, lyric sheets and rare photographs and memorabilia. Here, DiS reviews and reflects on each re-issue.
If hearing Never Mind The Bollocks for the first time acted as some kind of musical awakening, then Psychocandy represents my official Groundhog Day. Christmas Day in 1985 would be where lines were drawn, old cassettes and vinyl cast aside, and pretty much everything else discarded as being irrelevant. From the opening echoes of 'Just Like Honey' to the crushing finale that is 'It's So Hard', every single solitary part of Psychocandy's 14 piece jigsaw signified a new dawn in the way so-called alternative, independent or experimental bands (*delete where appropriate) would approach music in the future. Sure enough, the likes of Cabaret Voltaire, Einsturzende Neubaten and Throbbing Gristle had already crossed previously forbidden boundaries, but here was a band not afraid to fuse melody with obnoxious bursts of white noise. Unafraid of publicly confessing an unashamed love of Phil Spector and Motown alongside more obvious influences like The Velvet Underground. Let's not forget back in the mid-Eighties you had to belong to a faction. You had to be a skinhead, or a punk, or a mod, or a rocker, or a futurist, or a soul boy. There was no in-between. In the smalltown I grew up in any fusion between sub-genres was deemed unacceptable, the actions of a 'poseur'. So for a band to come along and make music completely alien to anything heard before while stating their inspiration had come from opposite ends of the musical spectrum was just totally flooring.
It goes without saying that alongside The Head On The Door and Meat Is Murder, Psychocandy was one of the few highlights in what was an especially bleak year for UK music. Simmering with vitriol, brutality and an underlying subtlety and substance few could comprehend, there isn't a moment on the entire album where the skip button takes precedence over the record's contents. Lyrically ambiguous but ultimately dark in sentiment, the likes of 'The Living End' and 'Taste The Floor' could have been about anything you wanted them to be, the latter's admission that "The sun don't shine, and all the stars don't shine, and all the walls fall down, and all the fish get drowned" making even Morrissey seem like a stand-up comedian in comparison.
What's more, every song on Psychocandy could quite easily have been released as a single in its own right. The three that were, 'Never Understand', 'You Trip Me Up' and 'Just Like Honey' all stand up today as timeless, seminal masterpieces. That debut single 'Upside Down' never made the cut for Psychocandy probably tells its own story, as great a 45 that it was. Reading through the accompanying 32-page booklet bass player Douglas Hart reveals the main inspiration for the production on Psychocandy was Norman Whitfield, who worked on a lot of classic Marvin Gaye and Temptations records. You probably can't hear it through all the distortion and feedback, but on the record's more laidback offerings like 'Cut Dead' and 'Sowing Seeds' the Mary Chain embrace melody and deliver exquisitely.
While every home should own at least one copy of Psychocandy already, the accompanying bonus discs offer another whopping 29 songs, most notably the 'Upside Down' single and its b-side, the Mary Chain's incendiary cover of Syd Barrett's 'Vegetable Man' along with long lost demo and one-time centre of tabloid controversy 'Jesus Fuck'. Elsewhere, three John Peel radio sessions taken over a 12-month period between October 1984 and 1985 evidently document the band's development, hinting at where their next musical excursion is heading as new songs 'Some Candy Talking' and 'Psychocandy' sit side-by-side with a stripped down acoustic jaunt through 'You Trip Me Up'.
Meanwhile, the DVD collects promo videos for the three singles alongside television appearances from The Old Grey Whistle Test, The Tube and a Belgian music programme entitled VRT, which is more notable for Jim Reid arguing with the presenter over his apparent hatred of all things Joy Division and drummer-at-the-time Bobby Gillespie getting it on with his then-girlfriend in the background. As a stand alone entity, Psychocandy remains flawless. With the added extras contained in the Deluxe Edition, its an essential purchase for anyone remotely interested in The Jesus & Mary Chain or just the development of independent guitar music in general. (10).
Following up such perfection as Psychocandy was never going to be easy. "We had a choice of whether to make Psychocandy 2 or try another thing...A lot was getting written about the noise element of our music and not enough about the actual songs underneath the noise, so we decided to showcase the songs rather than the guitars", said Jim Reid to DiS recently. While not an entirely unfeasible shape shift from its predecessor's barbed wire halo of noise and disaffection, Darklands still proved a shock to the system for those who'd dismissed the Mary Chain as a band bereft of any musical talent while immersed in the shock tactics of the Sex Pistols before them. It probably seems unthinkable now but at the time of the band's arrival on the scene they often found themselves compared to the Pistols.
While this record heralded a more mellow, delicate approach than Psychocandy, it's also notable for being the album which brought the songwriting and vocal talents of William Reid to the forefront. Having spent the majority of their early period with his back to the audience detuning guitars and conjuring up an array of explosive noises, the decision to let him take the lead on Darklands proved something of a masterstroke, not least due to it coinciding with the band gatecrashing the mainstream courtesy of 'in between' single 'Some Candy Talking', yet another controversial moment for the Mary Chain thanks to its ambiguous lyrics that had several commentators jumping to conclusions it promoted heroin use.
In terms of commercial success, Darklands breached the top five of the album charts while spawning the band's biggest hit single 'April Skies' which reached the top ten culminating in their one and only 'live' appearance on Top Of The Pops. Delving into its ten pieces it's clear the record was written in a completely different headspace to its predecessor, the likes of 'Cherry Came Too', 'Happy When It Rains' and 'About You' all eschewing skewered messages of a romantic notion, albeit occasionally destructive ("I'm on the edge of something, you take me back to nothing"). Having spent a lot of the recording sessions arguing with their label about producers and such like, its perhaps worth noting that sound engineer John Loder once again augments the band's sonic version with distinction.
Occasionally there is a tendency to increase the volume. 'Down On Me' and 'Fall' both take off into familiar territories of yore at various intervals while even the coda of 'April Skies' signs off with a desultory screech of feedback for good measure. Overall though Darklands showcases the songs in favour of the noise element associated with the band from the outset while dispelling any myths that the band were simply one-trick ponies covering up a lack of musical nuance under an avalanche of reverb. Although not as immediate as Psychocandy, there's little doubt Darklands has also stood the test of time and among its contents lies some of the band's most memorable and popular songs from their entire back catalogue.
The Deluxe Edition features another 29 songs including the 'Some Candy Talking' EP, numerous b-sides and a collection of outtakes including covers of The Beach Boys 'Surfin' USA' and Can's 'Mushroom'. A radio interview with Janice Long at the end of session versions of 'Darklands', 'Down On Me' and 'Deep One Perfect Morning' reveals them in more upbeat confines than one would imagine, while the DVD collects five promotional videos (The rarely seen film for 'April Skies's excellent b-side 'Kill Surf City' is also included) alongside television appearances on the aforementioned Top Of The Pops and shortlived ITV commissioned music show The Roxy respectively.
Overall, Darklands wasn't so much a 'difficult' second album but an obvious vantage point for a band seeking newer climates rather than resting on their laurels. As a result, its appeal hasn't diminished in the twenty-four years since its release and the added extras of this re-issue package only serves to reinforce the message that Darklands deserves its place among that era's finest. (9).
As the end of the Eighties approached, the dynamic of the band changed too. If Darklands was William Reid's most personal documentation to date, then Automatic was the record where The Jesus & Mary Chain would effectively become a two-piece. While original bass player Douglas Hart was still a touring member of the band at this point, all of the bass parts on Automatic were covered by a pre-programmed synthesizer with a drum machine adding processed beats on all but one song.
Nevertheless, demand was still high for the band and with television programmes like The Chart Show and Snub TV focusing heavily on underground, or 'indie' music as it was coming to be known, artists such as The Jesus & Mary Chain and many of their contemporaries regularly found themselves camped in the upper echelons of the charts. It was also the age of the multi-format, something employed by record labels to ensure their acts received a high chart placing during the first week of release by encouraging fans to purchase various editions of the same record with different b-sides, sleeves, shapes and sizes. For the two singles lifted off Automatic, 'Blues From A Gun' and 'Head On', Blanco y Negro employed this tactic to full effect, particularly on the latter which actually came out as four separate 7-inches with an accompanying box to put them all in. That it stalled at number 57, the Mary Chain's lowest chart placing since the release of 'Upside Down' five years earlier probably owed more to the fact it followed the album by a good two-and-a-half months, not to mention each format being split over a four-week period rather than forcefed on the day of release.
Prior to Automatic the band had put out the 'Sidewalking' single, a song whose drum beat samples Roxanne Shante's 'Brothers Ain't Shit'. While not exactly a drastic seachange for a band so disparate as the Mary Chain, their use of DATs and electronic gadgets on Automatic shouldn't have surprised that many people. It also marks the first time a then little-known engineer called Alan Moulder stamped his authority on the band's trademark sound, his panache for fusing heavily orchestrated guitar parts with radio friendly melodies coming to the fore here. Although initially having worked with them three years earlier on the 'Some Candy Talking' EP, it was Automatic that undoubtedly kickstarted his career.
Lyrically upbeat - bar the despairing plea of 'Halfway To Crazy' - and more Americanised than anything the Mary Chain had previously put their names to, songs like 'Coast To Coast ("Junk town nothing, got to keep it coming") and 'Blues From A Gun' ("Too young kid, you're gonna get hit, looks like you're never gonna make it off the government list") emphasised both band and label's seemingly then-obsession with embracing (and conquering..?) all things Stateside. Although not remembered as fondly as either of its predecessors, looking back on Automatic it represents a brave statement of intent from a band desperate to move away from any pigeonhole assigned to them, and while the likes of 'Between Planets' or 'Take It' don't resonate with the same energy and force as say 'In A Hole' or 'Happy When It Rains' from their more illustrious past, its a record many bands would be proud of, particularly at the third album stage very few have the tenacity to reach.
Of the additional tracks here, the 'Sidewalking' single and its various mixes and b-sides along with their distortiuon heavy cover of the Beach Boys 'Surfin' USA' make for interesting listening. A couple of John Peel sessions from the summer of 1988 and November 1989 are also included, the former most notably for their heartfelt rendition of The Temptations 'My Girl'. Elsewhere, the DVD features an interview with MTV filmed in Australia at the back end of '89 alongside numerous promo videos and TV appearances for Rapido and Snub TV respectively. For an enthusiast its another worthwhile addition to the collection, while even casual observers could do far worse than investing their hard earned dosh on this. (8).
After the release of Automatic, the next couple of years were fairly quiet in terms of new recordings as far as The Jesus & Mary Chain were concerned. An EP (Rollercoaster) in September 1990 aside, there was little in the way of new material, and certainly no forewarning of what was to emerge in the spring of 1992. A lot of that time between records was spent building their own studio, The Drugstore, in the Elephant & Castle area of London. With it came a more efficient way of working than the band had previously encountered, something Jim Reid touches upon in the accompanying booklet to album number four, Honey's Dead. "I wish we could have kept the work ethic we had on 'Honey's Dead' throughout," he explains. "We were still sober making that record, we had not yet discovered the Queen's Head pub opposite the band's studio, so we just knuckled down to it and recorded that album quite quickly."
Not that Honey's Dead sounds in any way rushed. Once again employing Alan Moulder to work his magic in the studio on all but one of the record's 12 tracks (Flood engineered 'Rollercoaster') with the Reid brothers contributing all of the music bar the drums, courtesy of Curve's Steve Monti. After the lukewarm response to Automatic both critically and commercially the band were seen by many as a spent force. Even their label didn't have very high expectations for Honey's Dead, hence the reason no promotional video was originally commissioned for lead single, Reverence'. "They didn't see the point, and we argued that surely it was in their best interests to have some form of visual representation of the song," admits Jim. "They still refused to back down, so I said "Give me a grand and I'll make one", and that's what happened. I'm really proud of that video now. To me it's as good as any of the other videos we ever made." Even more astonishingly, 'Reverence' forced its way into the top ten singles chart without the aid of any radio play due to the 'blasphemous' nature of its lyrics ("I wanna die just like Jesus Christ"), thereby paving the way for the band's most successful period in over five years.
Influenced in parts by the baggy scene purported by the likes of The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays yet also carrying their now customary guitar sound along the way, Honey's Dead wasn't so much a return to form as a hefty two fingered salute to anyone that dared to question the band's relevance in this changing musical landscape. Across the 12 songs that comprised Honey's Dead was a concentrated mix of the styles and sounds that cemented all three of this record's predecessors. If 'Reverence' harked a return to the bombast of Psychocandy, then the mellow tones of 'Almost Gold' rivalled Darklands' mellower moments for subtlety and inhibition. From the Einsturzende Neubaten-sampling 'Tumbledown' to the dirty rock'n'roll of 'Teenage Lust', Honey's Dead conveyed the sound of a band at ease with their past while coming to terms with the present, receiving the ultimate accolade later that year by being shortlisted for the inaugural Mercury Music Prize, Primal Scream's Screamadelica narrowly pipping them at the post.
Looking back, Honey's Dead is possibly their most accessible record and one which never sounds staid or dated. The aforementioned 'Rollercoaster' EP that preceded the record and ended up as the name of the tour the band participated in around the time of Honey's Dead's release alongside My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr and Blur didn't really offer that much of a clue as to what direction they were heading. Indeed the lead song from that EP is possibly the weakest track on Honey's Dead.
Of the extras included as part of the Deluxe Edition, the band's first dalliances in remix territory such as the Arc Weld version of 'Far Gone And Out' and Grand Exalted Poobah's take on 'Teenage Lust' make for interesting listening. Several covers which featured on various EPs and b-sides around this time, most notably Leonard Cohen's 'Tower Of Song', Elvis Presley's 'Guitarman' and 'Reverberation (Doubt)' by the 13th Floor Elevators demonstrate the eclectic nature of the Reid brothers make-up. The inclusion of seven tracks from the Sheffield leg of the 'Rollercoaster' tour - a show yours truly is proud to say he attended - also highlights the progress made from those riotous days of 1985's 15 minute gigs. The DVD meanwhile files the obligatory promo videos alongside appearances on The Word and The Late Show plus an MTV interview and video retrospective.
Overall, Honey's Dead is up there alongside Psychocandy and Darklands as one of The Jesus & Mary Chain's finest collections and remains an essential purchase today. (9).
With the unexpected success of Honey's Dead still fresh in their minds and lengthy 'Rollercoaster' and Lollapalooza tours behind them, The Jesus & Mary Chain decamped to the studio at the start of 1993 intending to make an acoustic album. "We'd been talking for years about making an acoustic album and then with the songs we had at that time it just seemed appropriate," recalls Jim Reid. "And then when we actually got into the studio we realised that we weren't good enough as musicians to make a bloody acoustic album!" Over the course of the next 11 months, Stoned & Dethroned would gradually fall into place. It was also the first time since Psychocandy that the Mary Chain had recorded as a full band, with long time touring band member Ben Lurie and Curve's Steve Monti contributing bass and drum parts respectively.
Although not technically an acoustic record in its purest sense, Stoned & Dethroned was a marked departure from anything else the band had conceived previously. Adventurously mellow throughout, its deluge of influences collected from Americana, country & western and West Coast pop as well as the driving rock and roll we'd come to expect over the past decade, Stoned & Dethroned was a brave attempt at redefining their capabilities while experimenting with new sounds and ideas. Its best known and ultimately standout moment, 'Sometimes Always' featured guest vocals from Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval, then girlfriend of William Reid, and the spacey arrangements which punctuated the album could perhaps best be compared to that outfit's So Tonight That I Might See, also from the same era.
The record received mixed reviews at the time, most of the criticism aimed at the album's length (17 tracks in total) rather than quality of the content. Indeed the stripped down nature of Stoned & Dethroned possibly lost the band a lot of their hardcore fanbase, and yet looking back it can almost be viewed as a precursor to a lot of the alternative country rock that the likes of Fleet Foxes would take out of the underground and into the mainstream a decade or so later.
On a personal level, it's possibly the album that least connects. Lyrically bleak ("We've got nothing but that's alright" - 'Cold', "I feel sick and unholy, my soul don't want to know me" - 'Save Me'), while audacious in its planning, some of Stoned & Dethroned could have been executed in a more proficient manner and in hindsight, the slippery slope towards the band's disintegration could be traced back to here.
Once again the additional CD and DVD offers a plethora of bonus tracks and live performances. There's an entire live set from Bristol's Trinity Centre in April 1995 alongside a lengthy interview with Steve Lamacq for Radio One. The band's first appearance on BBC2's Later With Jools Holland is captured, opting to play 'Snakedriver' off the 'Sound Of Speed' EP which predates Stoned & Dethroned by a year as well as lead single 'Something I Can't Have'.
Interestingly, despite the divided opinions surrounding Stoned & Dethroned, Jim Reid is adamant in his summising, "I don't listen to our records all of the time, just every now and then, but that's one which I definitely believe hasn't dated badly at all." Neverheless, when compared with the rest of their back catalogue, its weaknesses become ever more apparent. (6).
So, last but not least, the now labelless Mary Chain head back to familiar territories for their final long player. Having parted ways with Warner Brothers; indeed, the demo recordings for Munki were given to the label but they chose not to release it and associations terminated forthwith, the Reid brothers decided to return to their old stamping ground, Creation Records, only to find it unrecognisably different to what it had been fifteen years earlier. "It was nothing like it used to be," recalls Jim Reid. "The first time we were on Creation we spent days folding the paper covers inside plastic sleeves for 'Upside Down' in Alan McGee's back bedroom in Tottenham. Alan still held down a day job back then, so to go back 15 years later to do Munki it was like they'd become a proper record company!" he remarks.
In another fairly ambitious move, the band set out a plan to record a double album of back-to-basics rock and roll. What they hadn't bargained for was the serious deterioration of Jim and William Reid's relationship to the point where both recorded their parts separately. Its perhaps surprising then that the majority of Munki follows a cohesive and well-structured path. Although not quite on a par with the likes of Honey's Dead from yore, it once again demonstrates that even after 15 years, The Jesus & Mary Chain still had it in them to create an album bursting with intensity and a fire belying their almost veteran status.
It's also worth remembering that Munki initially came out amidst a sea of all things Britpop yet still managed to achieve a longevity and relevance many other records released that year (1998) haven't succeeded in doing so. Lead single 'Cracking Up' revealed their most cuttingly vitriolic statement of intent since 'Reverence' six years earlier, while the likes of 'Stardust Remedy' and 'I Hate Rock'n'Roll' would easily make it onto a Best Of The Jesus & Mary Chain compilation were one to exist. With vocal contributions from Hope Sandoval and Sister Vanilla, the late Nick Sanderson of Earl Brutus and World Of Twist fame on drums, and former Higsons horn player Terry Edwards also on board, Munki represents the band at their most collaborative and stands as a fitting final chapter.
Of course the ensuing tour to promote Munki culminated in the band's break-up during the American leg, Jim Reid's famous quote ""After each tour we wanted to kill each other, and after the final tour we tried" describing the aftermath. From a commercial perspective, Munki didn't sell anywhere near as many copies as most of its predecessors and coupled with the negative energy surrounding the Reids, the writing was probably on the wall before the tour tipped them over the edge.
Looking back at Munki now, it's one of those records that in hindsight serves as a document of a band that's falling apart. The likes of 'Commercial' and 'Never Understood' have a tragicomic edge to them not previously displayed by the Mary Chain while even opener 'I Love Rock'n'Roll' acts as a reaffirmation in terms of the song's sentiment ("I love what I'm doing").
For the purpose of the Deluxe Edition, numerous radio sessions, b-sides and a recording of one of the band's last ever concerts before the aforementioned split at Camden's Electric Ballroom in April '98 create an air of finality to what is essentially yet another worthwhile purchase. The accompanying DVD meanwhile focuses on their last appearance on Later With Jools Holland, the aforementioned 'Cracking Up' once again standing out as a sublime end statement. (7).
Whether The Jesus & Mary Chain will make another album remains to be seen. Having briefly reformed in 2007, Jim Reid hinted at a new record, and even as recently as two weeks ago when speaking to DiS, he admitted "Between us, we've definitely got enough songs to do a Mary Chain double album if we wanted to...". I guess we'll just have to wait and see, but with their legacy firmly in tact, each of these six re-issues goes some way towards explaining why The Jesus & Mary Chain are possibly the most important UK guitar band of the past 30 years.
The Jesus & Mary Chain's entire back catalogue will be released in a Deluxe 2 CD + DVD edition format as follows:-
Stoned And Dethroned
For more information on the band visit their official website.