Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Jesus And Mary Chain - Darklands - 1987

When I started writing this blog, I said that a lot of things were probably going to change and evolve as I wrote stuff down, and this is such a change. Moving forward, I'm probably not going to do any "band" posts and instead going to write about either albums or songs, so I can double-dip later, and not drain myself out of material too fast. And when I'm writing about music, I think I'll probably have different things to say about bands when talking about different albums. Hell, in many cases, bands change so much between albums that I'd probably need to redescribe them any way. That isn't so much the case for this band, who have generally been in one of only two modes, but I wanted to write about this album, so this is your warning - no more "band-centric" and now "album-centric."

Today I wanna talk about The Jesus And Mary Chain and their album "Darklands." The Jesus and Mary Chain (henceforth referred to as JAMC) are a pair of brothers, Jim and William Reid, from Scotland, and a bunch of other people who come and go. Bobby Gillespie from Primal Scream was even with them for a while, before he formed Primal Scream, obviously, as their drummer. Their first album, "Psychocandy," released near the end of 1985. It was a blend of heavily fuzzed guitars and almost 1960s styled wall-of-sound production with endless reverb, and man, was it noisy. It was like Phil Spector producing the Sex Pistols, except the vocals were almost as stoned as possible.When people were talking about JAMC after "Psychocandy," inevitably the first thing people would talk about was the huge walls of feedback. described the album as "Beach Boys melodys meets Velvet Underground feedback and beats, all cranked up to ten and beyond, with plenty of echo." The album was the very definition of a hot mess. It was loud and wild and primal and crazy, and their live show were even crazier. They were fried after they toured behind the album, they parted ways with their manager, and for a while, it looked like they might not even make it to a second album. I'm telling you all of this, of course, because I need to set the stage for what a radical shift "Darklands" was, or at least what it appeared to be when it hit.

JAMC's  "Darklands" was released in the fall of 1987, and when it first came out, people were a bit shocked. At first blush, the album lacked some of the touchstones that people had latched onto from "Psychocandy" as "the JAMC sound," most notably the heavily buzzing guitar feedback wall and the endless amount of reverb. First impressions can be misleading, though, because those things are there, just not in the copious amounts they were in "Psychocandy." See, at their core, JAMC are a band that's interested in doing pop songs but by their own rules.

"Darklands" still has the same melodious underpinnings that "Psychocandy" does; they're just trying to hide it a little less. It's also entirely possible that JAMC didn't want to be pigeonholed as "those wall-of-sound-noise guys," which is entirely fair. So a lot of critics liked the album, but they said it wasn't as good as "Psychocandy." I've always disagreed. I like "Psychocandy" a lot, but I've always thought the songcraft on "Darklands" is just so much better - melodies wander around a bit more, the lyrics are a little more introspective and the drums are more underplayed (mostly because Darklands has a drum machine, as Gillespie had left the band). 

The song "Happy When It Rains" is still probably my favorite JAMC song, as if the sky had a nice summer rain going on and you were behind the wheel of your car, driving on a highway up the coast.  In fact, much of "Darklands" concerns rain. Two songs have "rain" in the title - "Happy When It Rains" and "Nine Million Rainy Days" and more than a few of the other songs mention rain in the lyrics, but I wouldn't call "Darklands" a gloomy album by any stretch. It's relaxed, comfortable.

After "Darklands," JAMC turned the volume back up again, although never quite to the level of raw carnage that "Psychocandy" was, and from time to time they'd bring the volume back down to softer tones, although never quite to the level of soft spoken closer of "Darklands," the melancholy and acoustic sweetness of "About You."

As a closing note, I have to admit, part of the fun of this for me has been finding out exactly how much of the world has been uploaded to YouTube over the last decade, and I'm seeing a lot of these music videos for the first time. For me, the music always came first, and while I got a lot from 120 Minutes, it pales in comparison to how much music I just glommed onto from somewhere around me without really ever being sure of where from. I'm not sure where I picked up JAMC from, but I remember the first song I heard from them was off "Honey's Dead" so it must have been 1992-1993. And I was too young (and on the wrong continent) to have caught the Rollercoaster tour they did in 1992. The bill? The Jesus and Mary Chain, Blur, Dinosaur Jr. and My Bloody Valentine. Holy shit, to have been there...

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