Release Date: Mar 24, 2017
Record label: EK OK
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Some bands pioneer a sound, set the tone, mould the template and then even with hundreds of disciples to follow, they're never quite matched by their descendants. Sonic Youth, The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, Nirvana - the relatively short list goes on, and as an absolute essential it includes The Jesus and Mary Chain. While that pretty impressive list includes a fair few acts not exactly renowned for their easy-going friendliness, these Scottish icons could rival any act for a consistently detached disdain.
The frankly annoying thing about the Reid brothers' return to music after so many years is the fact they don't seem to have aged a day, aurally at least. Despite festival slots and full album gigs, Damage & Joy is their first record since 1998's Munki - but this time around the results sound as if they could honestly have been made in 1983. And let's be honest here, that's no bad thing.
When The Jesus and Mary Chain reunited in 2007, it was unexpected given the acrimonious breakup that brothers Jim Reid and William Reid experienced while touring for their 1998 album Munki. After some touring in recent years, including some dates playing their classic 1985 debut LP Psychocandy in full back in 2015, they're back with their first album in 19 years. Not surprisingly, it nods more in the direction of their '90s records (particularly Munki, and the quieter parts are reminiscent of 1994's overlooked Stoned and Dethroned) as well as the work that both brothers have done in subsequent years, particularly Freeheat (whose song "Two of Us" is given new life here), as well as Sister Vanilla (the final track "Can't Stop the Rock" was originally a Sister Vanilla song).
Unlike, say, the Gallagher brothers, there was never a great deal of humour or romance about the ever-simmering feud between Jim and William Reid, one that seemed borderline nihilistic a lot of the time. Ironically, in the early days of The Jesus and Mary Chain , that might have suited the atmosphere around them just fine; after all, the shows that they played in support of their debut LP Psychocandy were notorious for reliably descending into wanton violence after only a handful of songs. As time wore on, though, so did the siblings' patience with one another.
It probably says a lot about the current state of pop(ular) music that the thought of a new Jesus & Mary Chain album in 2017 is as exciting a prospect as it was back in 1985. As the alternative's chloroform overdose takes it to new levels of sanitised - while the mainstream chugs along incessantly - a much-needed shot in the arm is well overdue. So why does it take a band fronted by two brothers fast approaching the age of 60 to create such waves? Looking back through the past 30 years it seems The Jesus & Mary Chain have always been on hand to provide that shot of adrenaline at the right time.
After 30 years in the darklands, the Jesus and Mary Chain remain a tribute to the power of goth guitar noise, surly frowns and the kind of grudges only a pair of Scottish brothers can hold. The notoriously hostile duo of Jim and William Reid put aside their differences - some of them, anyway - for their first album since 1998's Munki, picking up right where "I Hate Rock 'n' Roll" left off. Damage and Joy is full of fabulously morbid gems like "Simian Split" ("I killed Kurt Cobain/I put the shot right through his brain") and "Mood Rider," with its Hallmark-ready motto, "Kill everybody who's hip." Highlight: "Black and Blues," starring Sky Ferreira in the role of the just-like-honey muse who sings along but refuses to cheer these guys up.
Nineteen years after they last released their last album, Scottish indie legends the Jesus and Mary Chain have finally returned with their long-overdue seventh full-length. Originally teased when brothers Jim and William Reid reunited back in 2007, Damage and Joy was bordering on a Chinese Democracy-like absurdity. But it's finally here and, well, it's what we should have expected. The Mary Chain's final album, 1998's Munki, was an odd collection of (too many) songs split down the middle -- one half written by Jim, the other by William -- that was fragmented and misguided.
Whether they're playing 15-minute gigs or taking 19 years between albums, the Jesus and Mary Chain have always put a lot of care into the appearance of not giving a fuck. Ever since they first erected their wall of squall on 1985's Psychocandy, brothers Jim and William Reid have remained permanent residents of a world where sunglasses never come off, cigarette smoke doubles as dry ice, and the only illumination is provided by strobe light. None of the albums they've released since has sounded quite the same, but they all invariably feel the same.
It's inherently unfair to compare an iconic band's most seminal work to anything it might produce 20 years later. Artists are people Just Like Us, and their lives shift and adjust with good years and bad. The passage of time can and will ultimately translate into new sonic directions that may or may not resemble their initial output. Yet, when it comes to William and Jim Reid of Scottish post-punk figureheads The Jesus and Mary Chain, who, after almost two decades and a lot of infighting, have at long last released a new album, one cannot help but draw lines of comparison.
It's strange what has happened to rock time in the 21st century. The Jesus And Mary Chain haven't made an album since 1998's Munki, an album that was effectively sunk by Britpop and its aftermath, but 1998 feels like no time at all ago. It's not like the difference between 1960 and 1978, more like the difference between, say, 1989 and 1995. As for the Mary Chain themselves, they have been around over 30 years, count as veterans, and yet given the vast number of veterans still at work they are very much junior rank.
Jim Reid is absolutely right to assert that to make a good record like Damage and Joy "in your 50s, the way we are… is a minor miracle”. In another era not all that long ago, the Jesus and Mary Chain could have easily become a casino act by this point, or they might be off 'discovering' ragtime or some other antiquated musical form. Be grateful.
T here 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.
In the late 80s and early 90s, the Jesus and Mary Chain held a distorted mirror up to classic pop music. They were a band capable of heady, romantic and melodic songwriting clearly indebted to the pop greats, but streaked with bilious rage, violence and angst. The title of their seventh album nicely sums up, but does not totally reflect, that contrast: Damage And Joy.
The first Mary Chain album in 19 years kicks off in fine fettle: Amputation grumbles along on a William Reid riff that's half biker rock, half pure 60s pop, before his brother Jim's opening line sets out the challenge facing the pair: "Try to win your interest back / But you ain't having none of that." When they follow it with War on Peace, a splendid ballad that overcomes its debt to the Velvet Underground's Ocean through sheer stateliness, then all seems set fair. But there are problems. First, half of these 14 songs have been recorded before, by one or other Reid-related project.
In the nearly 20 years since they last released a record as the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Reid brothers stayed busy with new bands and solo careers. They reconvened the band occasionally for live shows and tours, but the recording studio wasn't a place the notoriously disaffected siblings felt comfortable visiting together. That changed in 2015 when the pair reached a level of détente sufficient to start working together and in 2017 they released their seventh album, Damage and Joy.
When does a trademark become a cliché? In the instance of The Jesus and Mary Chain, it's often hard to tell. Out of context, this LP is filled with platitudes: lyrics we've all heard before, guitar lines that JAMC know work well, and of course, the usual feedback and fuzz - no surprise given that many of these songs are reworked, re-recorded songs from the Reids' Sister Vanilla and Freeheat projects. For fans of the band, this should work seamlessly, because it's all the things The Jesus and Mary Chain are notoriously best at.
Nobody has yet written the rulebook for how to manage the ageing process for leading lights of the alternative rock movement. In most cases, the problem never arises. The few that remain and age gracefully - Nick Cave and PJ Harvey spring to mind - rely on a constant output of material that documents their gradual, sequential changes. The trick of never disappearing buffers against the sudden jolts that have afflicted those with prolonged absences from the public eye.
Just think of the legacy of Jim and William Reid, the two brothers helming the Jesus and Mary Chain for more than 30 years of hurts-so-good rock. Since the band's breakthrough wall-of-noise 1985 debut Psychocandy, which traded in gorgeous melodies and blistering fuzz, the Mary Chain had the expectations of their groundbreaking sound to live up to–explosive outbursts and pop gestures as reliant on their knowledge of psychedelic history as much the aggressively apathetic can-do of Scotland in the ’80s. They split after the 1998 album Munki, itself as big a disappointment to their original vibe as anything they’d released since Psychocandy.
Rewind to April 2006 and Jim Reid - ably backed by ex-Lush bassist Phil King on guitar, bassist Mark Crozer and erstwhile Ride drummer Loz Colbert - is playing the snug environs of the Half Moon in Putney, southwest London. Peering over his mic, Reid surveys the modest venue and sighs. "Fuckin' hell," he says. "If William was with us we'd be headlining the fuckin' Hammersmith Odeon up the road." It's funny how things turn out.