Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Overthinking The Jesus & Mary Chain's 'Darklands'!


Seeing that the Jesus & Mary Chain are set to perform their second album Darklands in its entirety this year (sadly, no U.S. dates are on the books...yet), what better excuse is needed to yank out that divisive slice of post-punk wax and give the ears a good old-fashioned cleanin?

Of course, no discussion of any JAMC album can take place without first paying proper respects to the band's game-changing debut album Psychocandy, which hit the otherwise prim and proper UK music scene like a Molotov cocktail of chaos and resignation. I consider myself lucky getting to hear those first few JAMC singles on the radio thanks to some far-away radio station that I don't think I ever pulled in clearly.



As a result, whether I was listening to Aztec Camera or House of Love, you could never quite tell exactly what you were hearing because you were only pulling in the high frequencies, so the first time I heard Jesus & Mary Chain, it was all reverb, distortion and a high-end squeal that I had initially attributed to the shitty reception, but, upon hearing those same tunes on wax, I realized that that's just how JAMC sounded.

As an aspiring musician at the time, I couldn't imagine walking out of a recording studio with a tape of that under my sleeve, but I sure as hell admired their dedication to doing so. Those who wrote them off as some sort of musical fraud missed the band's affinity for great Motown melodies and their ability to do in 20 minutes what most bands fail to do after 90 or more (leave fans speechless).



So, hell yes, I was excited about how the band was going to top Psychocandy. I mean, they'd cut those tunes when they were nobodies and had nothing but a couple of cheap fuzzboxes. Imagine the fucking racket you could make with a budget!

And then I heard "April Skies", which was released as a single in the UK (of course) prior to Darklands. The single's cover looked darkly foreboding (someone on a crucifix), giving this fan no reason to believe that the band would be deviating from the sound that had become THEIR TRADEMARK.

What I heard was a cool tune that just didn't sound finished and, to this day, sounds like a demo. That's not a bad thing, some of my best friends are demos, but there were a lot of alums being released at the time with big pieces missing...Three O'Clock's Ever After missing guitar, Billy Idol's Whiplash Smile missing live drums. and the Jesus & Mary Chain's new album missing that impenetrable reverb and manic distortion of every other song they'd ever recorded.



On the surface, "April Skies" is not that far removed from Psychocandy's "Taste Of Cindy", but what the latter tune gets right is that, while deviating from the "all-distortion-all-the-time credo" in favor of a more song-oriented presentation, the band still manages to slather on the fuzzy frosting layer by delicious layer.

On "April Skies", though, it just seems like, at some point, the band decided their cake didn't need any frosting and then, once the whole album was finished, decided that nothing else did either.



Thing is, there are songs throughout the album just screaming for the band's one-of-a-kind TRADEMARK SOUND, like "Down On Me" and the album's title cut. Admittedly, by removing that sonic syrup from the mix, the band renders itself completely average and capable of being surpassed by even the most half-assed British guitar band when they'd already come up with a sound that was entirely their own.

Even when the likes of My Bloody Valentine started embracing the murky swirl of reverb and distortion, their musical cacophony could never hold a candle to JAMC's dissonant squeal.

This listener could understand that, if the Jesus and Mary Chain had been besieged by a hundred copy cat bands, they'd have had no other choice but to retool their sound, but they literally had the "distortion-as-symphony" game to themselves.

Six months later, the band would release Barbed Wire Kisses, a deep collection of b-sides and assorted non-LP tracks that did one helluva better job at capturing the true spirit of the band than Darklands did, by a long shot.

Plus, the cassette had TWICE as many tunes as Darklands, making this fan think that if the Reid bothers really wanted to give us a show, they'd be performing that album in its entirety.

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