Album: Psychocandy – The Jesus and Mary Chain
Review: Rolling Stone, 27 May 1986
Author: Tim Holmes
The Jesus and Mary Chain is a riddle, a conundrum, a source of confusion and anxiety, a love-’em-or-hate-’em proposition. Obviously schooled in the aesthetics of noise and punk and simpleminded pop, the Jesus and Mary Chain is a perfect recombinant of every Edge City outlaw ethic ever espoused in rock.
With the willful and deliberate abandon of postpunk ghouls, they rape and pillage everything you’ve ever loved: the Phil Spector “Be My Baby” drum tat-too, the sweet abrasion of the Velvet Underground, the velocity and mangled pop of the Ramones, the black-leather sloganeering of Suicide, the lovable incompetence of Sixties garage bands, the shrill, screaming, grinding industrial pandemonium of SPK and Throbbing Gristle. The big question arises: Is the Jesus and Mary Chain the real thing, or is it a shrewd package job for critics and would-be iconoclasts?
The album title Psychocandy sums it up with alarming accuracy. This is the opposite of sugarcoating the pill; it’s like wrapping sandpaper around a Tootsie Pop. The veneer is gritty and inedible, the next layer is hard and crunchy, the core is soft and chewy. These are kids after all, which just might be their saving grace. If indeed they are a superficial and diluted version of the most hard-core and dangerous elements in the rock lexicon, maybe they are too young to care.
For all its chain-saw screech and übermetallic badness, the Jesus and Mary Chain is a pop band with doo-doo-doos and la-la-las, simple melodies and full echoing production around Jim Reid‘s laconic Lou Reed-like monotone. William Reid‘s guitar parts blast shards of maniacal feedback across the underpinnings of Douglas Hart‘s bass lines. And in true Mo Tucker stand-up fashion, Bobby Gillespie keeps the beat uncomplicated and direct.
It’s obvious to the point of inanity that the Velvet Underground is the pure and adult model for the self-consciously evil xerography of the Jesus and Mary Chain. Perhaps these are the days of whining neuroses and the function of the Jesus and Mary Chain is to make ruthless, gut-bending noise safe for the airwaves. But, then again, if they can actually get their holocaustic guitar squall on the radio, maybe they’re doing us all some kind of public service.
As mentioned in the pre-amble to the first offering in this seasonal mini-series, there are very few reviews from the UK music papers from the 80s available on-line which is why I’m leaning heavily towards what was published in America. My big surprise here is that someone from Rolling Stone got it right about JAMC, far quicker than many of his UK counterparts, many of whom dismissed them as a gimmick with no shelf-life.