It is all too often a cringe worthy experience when a beloved band seminal in one’s developing musical tastes, comes back out of the cold to release a new studio album after 19 years. I feared that the announcement of Jesus and the Mary Chain’s new release “Damage and Joy” would be one of those events. However I was joyfully mistaken as there is no disappointment to be had on the release. “Damage and Joy” continues the Jesus and the Mary Chain legacy like 19 years never transpired. The band has always seemed to lead from their guts rather than their head and returns this time with a little bit less bile and equal sprinklings of heart and head. The godfathers of shoegaze have grown older but have not lost touch with what makes them unique; their brash cacophonic sound and sneering aggrieved attitude.
Jesus and the Mary Chain has always been the manifestation of songwriting partners and brothers Jim and William Reid. Their battles onstage and behind the scenes are the stuff of legend. However from that maelstrom of discord was produced some of the most sublime noise created in the nether regions of rock during the eighties and nineties. In those eras the Bros Reid hit upon an arresting sound that captured the zeitgeist of both eras for many fans. Jim and William first formed the band in 1983 in East Kilbride, Scotland. In the early days when the band struggled to get gigs they would turn up at venues saying they were the opener play a short set and make a quick exit. That audacity would lead to their label signing and to their 1985 release Psychocandy. “Psychocandy” would prove to be the first shot over the parapet indicating that something new was afoot in the land of Scotland. JAMC hit their timing right as the music world was looking for something new after all the electronic pop that ruled that scene at the time. The band quickly became know for their chaotic loud sonics, and free for all antics on stage.
Amphetamines and LSD fueled much of the madness and at one point critics likened the band to the Sex Pistols; with many fully expecting the band to implode. Thankfully that was not the case as the band produced impressive album after impressive album lending an inspirational hand in the creation of Grunge and Alternative. Then the late nineties hit and suddenly music tastes changed and as the Reid brothers state, “When we put out Munki (1998) we loved the album but could not get arrested for the interest shown in the release.” In 1999 the band disbanded and many thought JAMC was history. Over the last 19 years both brothers had participated and supported numerous musical creations and in 2007 reformed Jesus and the Mary Chain performing live. There was a lot of back and forth between the brothers about going back into the studio. It should surprise no one that neither brother was on the same page at the same time on the idea. Eventually the day dawned when they both decided to go back in the studio.
Taking it slowly the Reid brothers recruited the producer, Youth and went to his studio in Spain to record. Hesitant at first, everything clicked and amazingly all their skills proved to be intact. What was missing was a lot of the inter band fighting and combativeness that had always existed between the brothers. Both have stated that they might have finally figured out how to work with each other without coming to blows. Damage and Joy does have its fair collection of musical strays on the new release. All of which should have been on those albums that went unrecorded over the last 19 years. That being said “Damage and Joy” is not a rummage sale recording but an album containing scintillating originals that make “Damage and Joy” a pleasure. For the recording of the album along with the Reid brothers are Phil King on bass and Brian Young on drums with Youth also contributing on bass.
What “Damage and Joy” provides is an opportunity to get reacquainted with the brilliant musical talents of the Reid Brothers. They are still bearing a grudge and many times it appears the brothers are 50 going on 19. But it sounds like they are truly enjoying the regression. What is gained from those 19 missing years’ is texture and maturity. The album kicks off with Amputation and that trademark gnarly guitar intro. It is akin to walking into a room full of attuned buzz saws, then a harmony enters and the whole thing turns mesmerizing. Ever aware of the fickleness of the music industry the first lyrics are “trying to win your interest back but you not having any of that” or even more direct, “Kissed today fucked tomorrow.” Ah that is the Jesus and the Mary Chain I know. The snarl is still there just a smidgen subdued. War on Peace enters into the wheelhouse of the band with a combination of psychedelica and shoegaze. Throughout is the swirling ennui that is like an LSD induced flashback to Automatic. Do not miss the outstanding Shoegaze rock out at the 3:30 mark of the song, it is oh so satisfying. The chattering distortion of All Things Pass has the Reid boys giving a nod to time and discovering that one day you have to realize you don’t want to be the old man at the disco bar. The track also speaks to not wanting to let go of the bad habits of youth, in this case the sex, drugs and rock and roll, they know they have to reform but as the wry lyric puts it, “not too fast.” Always Sad could have come straight off Honey’s Dead and the vocals from Bernadette Denning add a special something to the track. It is a song that contains all the angry snarl ever present on a JAMC track with added bittersweet loveliness.
Song for a Secret starts off with the lyric “Too old to crucify too young for suicide”, which sets the mood for this track. The vocals of Isobel Campbell enhance this song and the following song The Two of Us. “The Two of Us” is classic JAMC infused with mature hard gained wisdom. The song is so addictive and hooky it makes it hard to imagine 19 years went by without someone in the music industry realizing the continued potential of Jesus and the Mary Chain. The song puts across the importance of a relationship to help each person survive, “You’re the reason I’m alive…the two of us are getting high. We don’t need drugs cause we both know how to fly.” I never thought I would see the day that would be a JAMC lyric, but it is delightful all the same.
Los Feliz contains all the distrust the Reid Brothers have ever felt for America and especially LA, expressing a misanthropic attitude towards a country that is a little too assured of its own specialness. The tongue and cheek delivery of the lyrics “God Bless America… God lives in America in the land of the free wishing we were all dead” telling you everything you need to know about the theme of this track. It displays the love/hate relationship the brothers have for the US and the song may not be the first of its kind but is certainly very engaging. As a card carrying Jesus and the Mary Chain fan from way back the most satisfying track of the album is Mood Rider. It is simply all the greatness of JAMC distilled down into a song; it is spectacular.
As always the Reid brothers allow no sacred cows and both Presidici (Et Chapaquiditch) and Simian Split show the lads have no less irreverence as they grow older. The first song is cleverly naughty about the Kennedys and the hype of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, taking the stuffing out of the nostalgia. Their sneer is fully intact along with their smart assery. “Simian Split” also goes where angels fear to tread. The song begins by stating the paranoid ramblings of Kurt Kobain conspiracy fans and then goes on to weigh in on the ennui of stardom and specifically rock stardom. It excoriates those who feed on the corpse of dead personalities. This all takes place over discordant effects and signature JAMC sonics and phrasing; your either going to love this song or not take to it at all.
I did not realize how much I missed The Jesus and the Mary Chain until the song Get on Home which could have followed “Blues from A Gun” in the songlist off of “Automatic”. I have nothing but love for this song, and how can it miss with a lyric about night with a blow up doll and some LSD. It is on the later part of the album that the brothers really plug into their earlier selves. Facing the Facts does this awesome time folding act of looking at the past with 20/20 vision and placing the Reids in the present. Lyrics like “I’m back from the dead” and “I hate my brother and he hates me and that is the way it is suppose to be” display the two as acknowledging all their past conflicts and being aware of the surroundings they currently inhabit. It is another simply stunning track.
The last two tracks, Black and Blue and Can’t Stop the Rock are equally fantastic. “Black and Blue” features Sky Ferreira as the final female vocal cameo of the album. The selection is winning and contains an arresting guitar in the chorus that brings the song home. Can’t Stop the Rock is a tongue and cheek tune that suggests that rock has been a more positive power in the world than the UN and all of its ilk. In the song JAMC vow their dedication to being missionaries for Rock and Roll.
Damage and Joy is a welcome return for the Reid Brothers who have been gone from the rock scene for way too long. Their stellar dedication to brilliance is alive and well on the release. They amazingly transport the listener to a time period just a little past 1992, the peak of their popularity. “Damage and Joy” fits perfectly into the discography of the band. Yet the album is not a nostalgia trip; it is completely relatable to the here and now with the band bringing their own special point of view. The album is significantly brighter than the earlier outings and there is something other than dark suspicion and hatred fueling the release. Joy and resolution of past issues seeps through at different times. This is probably due to the ax being temporarily buried for the brothers Reid. It is my hope that this album is only indicative of things to come, and that more smelted guitars licks and clever insights are awaiting us in years to come from The Jesus and the Mary Chain. The album is a must for fans and a great introduction to those who are not yet of the fanbase.