A lot of now-classic albums have grown into their reputations over the course of years or decades, but the Jesus and Mary Chain’s debut Psychocandy was one of those whose epochal nature was screamingly obvious right out of the starting gate. Because so many bands in the last 30 years have copped JaMC’s move of burying SoCal pop and surf tropes under layers of reverb, noise, and darkness, it might be hard to convey just how INSANE they sounded when they were upstarts. I’m going to date myself pretty seriously here, but the first time I heard them, I was 15, delivering my paper route (laugh all you want, it was money for records), and listening to college radio on my Walkman. The song “Never Understand” came on, and I don’t know how the hell I didn’t fall off my bike. It seemed amazingly assaultive—full of ugly squealing feedback and guitars that could just as well have been broken vacuum cleaners, propelled at a nervous clip by caveman drumming that somehow sounded like it was stalking you, and yet it was catchy as hell, sporting laid-back, almost drowsy vocals that didn’t belong anywhere near that out-of-control musical mess, but it all clicked perfectly, like there was nothing weird about it at all. These young noise-abusers from Scotland had managed the feat of making themselves the Velvet Underground’s second coming. Even if they’d done nothing else worth hearing (and that’s decidedly not the case, of course, they churned out a lot of very cool stuff), Psychocandy would have cemented their legend.
Despite the combative relationship between its principals, singer/guitarist Jim Reid and his guitarist elder brother William, the Jesus and Mary Chain inspired and outlasted both the shoegaze and grunge incidents, finally blowing up at the end of the ‘90s, after six albums. They reunited for Coachella in 2007, and have been intermittently active as an oldies act. There’s been no new music in the offing yet, but they’re touring this year to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Psychocandy. I’d buy a ticket if I had an ironclad guarantee that both Reid brothers would be on board for the entire tour—they broke up for the millionth time during their last go-round, but the rest of the band continued touring anyway, and reports from the subsequent one-Reid shows were pretty disappointing.
The band’s longevity and its impact on shoegaze made them a shoo-in for a segment in the recent doc Beautiful Noise. The film has been screening at fests for almost a year, and is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray. It’s basically a shoegaze doc, but manages the neat trick of avoiding that word altogether in its publicity materials. I’m not sure why the term is shunned—though it was once divisive (it WAS originally kind of a derisive poke when it was coined), it’s no longer an especially controversial term, all the less so now that such sounds are being exhumed for re-examination by a generation of pedal-hoppers young enough to have been conceived by people listening to Loveless. But however they’re promoting it, the doc is loaded with jaw-dropping concert footage and informative interviews. This newly-released clip, which directors Eric Green and Sarah Ogletree have been so kind as to share with DM, features conversations about Psychocandy with Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, the Cure‘s Robert Smith, and Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan, cut with stunningly good footage of JaMC playing on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1985.
Previously on Dangerous Minds
Members of Curve and Primal Scream talk My Bloody Valentine’s ‘You Made Me Realise’