This is an mp3 blog attempting to document the gross amount of music I listen to. About once a day, I'll post something I like. If you're a copyright holder on anything I host, get in touch, and we'll settle things in a steel cage instead of a courtroom.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

"You'll never understand me/[unintelligable groan]" - The Jesus and Mary Chain

News item the first: Wanna know what's really hurting music? Find out here:

News item the second: My diet has started consisting of beef jerky and warm beer. Guess it's time to find a girlfriend.

So the latest mix CD I've been working on has been kind of an odd one. I'm putting together a CD for an ex documenting some of the music I was listening to around the time of our break-up about a year and a half ago. There's been enough distance that it's not a depressing exercise, but it's not exactly skipping through the tulips, y'know? It was a pretty emotionally intense time in my life, and I'll never be able to hear "Fire Up the Batmobile" by Liz Phair or "Prayer to God" by Shellac without having something churn inside me, especially in this context.

One of the songs I'm putting on the disc is "Never Understand" by the Jesus and Mary Chain, probably one of my 20 favorite songs of all time. While she, the classical musician, will probably disagree, to me it is the saddest song ever made. It's what my sadness feels like. It also captured the divide between us. While there was something deep and inarticulate that made us love each other intensely, we were very different people in a lot of ways. There were a lot of time, especially towards the end, where I felt like she would never understand me or why I do the things I do.

I don't mean to turn this into a post about an old break-up. It's about what's probably the best rock band to come out of Scotland. Formed by the Reid brothers Jim and William in 1984, the Jesus and Mary Chain started out by clanging out a noisy brand of feedback-laden pop music and ended with something of a whimper. In between, they made some of the most compelling pop music of the last 25 years.

Their first record, Psychocandy, is rightly regarded as a classic. It sounds like the Beach Boys surfing down a blood chute in a slaughterhouse. While listening to the Velvet Underground. At the bottom of a canyon. It's a definitely a line-in-the-sand record. Either you hear the sweet pop songs, or you hear white noise. There are so many amazing songs on it ("Just Like Honey," "Trip You Up," "My Little Underground") that I don't even know where to begin. Basically, it's as essential a record as any I own. All the band members at the time delcared their fondness for LSD, and it seems like all the shrieking white noise was the bad side of acid. Fuck all the hippy dippy dorks and their flower power nonsense.

At was also in this early period that the band began developing a reputation for insane gigs. They wouldn't talk to the audience, they would play noise for 10 minutes and leave, they stared at their feet while the crowds rioted, etc. It got to the point where the British press (which, in all fairness, has a habit of hyperbole) declared them the new Sex Pistols. One of my favorite ever band interviews was when they were featured on the BBC, and the interviewer asked bassist Douglas Hart why he only had the "E" and "A" strings on his intrument. He replied with words to the effect of "these're the only fucking strings I play, so bother with the other two?" They definitely had a the-fuck-with-you attitude that I've always found very appealing in performers.

In the aftermath of Psychocandy and the controversial "Some Candy Talking" single (including a drug bust in Germany), the Reid brothers let go everyone else in the band and recorded their sophomore album almost entirely on their own using a drum machine. Darklands saw them shed the ferocious white noise that had made them unique, leaving them to be merely a nihilistic new wave group. Still, Darklands was a killer record, even if it doesn't sock you in the gut like Psychocandy. The singles were the record's highlights, including the sullen "Happy When it Rains," the brooding "Darklands," and the relatively uptempo "April Skies." The Reids tried touring in support of it without the benefit of a drummer, and it was so poorly recevied that they quickly went back to using a live band.

1989's Automatic lives up to the title, as it sounds like the Reid brothers are going through the motions. A few decent singles (like "Head On") aside, it sounded tired and uninspired. Things were a better for their next record, Honey's Dead, which struck a middle ground between their two main sounds. Leadoff single "Reverance" was a classic slice of alternative rock, and "Sugar Ray" was so catchy as to be used in a Budweiser commercial.

Things were a bit different for 1994's Stoned and Dethroned, which had more country flavor than anything else. Aside from "Sometimes-Always," there are only a couple of decent songs on the record. The group was getting long enough in the tooth and short enough on the sales reports that they were finally dumped by Warner Brothers and released their next (and final) record on indie label Sub Pop. 1998's Munki was a painful album, and typical of last records for bands that burned white-hot in the beginning and then began cooling as their careers progressed. Mercifully, they split up acrimoniously the following year.

So what did they leave in their aftermath, aside from two classic albums and a disaffected attitude that has cast its influence over pretty much all brtpop made since the mid-80's? Well, what the fuck else do you need?

PS - Blogspot is being a bastich about photos right now, so I'll trying posting some again later so you can see these totally photogenic Scotch dudes.


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