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  The Jesus and Mary Chain  

Blanco Y Negro

Release Date:


Reviewed by:
  PostLibyan and Tracers  

I had been a fan of JAMC for 4 years or so when i first heard their debut record. In fact, i finally bought a copy of Psychocandy a few years after Automatic. This was the time when i was becoming disappointed with the band. Repeated listening had shown Automatic to be rather lifeless, so i reached further back into the catalog hoping to be re-inspired.

Unfortunately, on first listen, Psychocandy was another let down. This record seemed to take Fall (my least favorite track on Darklands), mix it with their cover of Surfin' USA, and then slow it all down so that it was a dull roar. Let's just say that i was less than impressed on first listen. Or second. Or third, etc. And so the CD sat there on my CD shelf for most of the 1990s. Every so often i would be broke and need to sell some old CDs, but this one never went. I don't know why i held on to it when i did purge Automatic eventually.


Not surprisingly, I had the same reaction to Psychocandy. In fact, for a long time, I didn't even own a copy of this one, because it seemed like a waste of time and money. It wasn't Darklands; in fact it seemed like the anti-Darklands and I wanted to pretend like it didn't exist.


Every once in a while i would listen to Psychocandy, usually just in the background as i cleaned or something. For a long time i thought i hated this record. But, sometime around the turn of the millennium, i found that i put it on to listen to in the background while cooking something, and i was bouncing along to it and singing over the feedback. Sometime over the decade, this album had worked its way into my brain. I don't understand why, but it did. So, let's just say that my experience with Psychocandy is complex.

However, it is a noisy, sludgy mess of a record, and lots of people will not enjoy it. If i played this for most of the people i know, they would roll their eyes in the "there he goes with that noisy crap" sort of way, and ask me -- politely at first -- to change the CD. So i cannot give this record a high review, which you might think is odd because every other site on the internet gives it the highest rating possible.


I think some of the late love for Psychocandy is sheer revisionism. I guarantee if most of these folks had heard the record when it first came out (or heck, even when I first heard it in the early 90s) would have hated the sludgy feedback and compared it unfavorably to many of the releases of Sonic Youth. But as distortion and feedback have become more acceptable and influential, it's a natural reviewer's impulse to come back to the beginning and say, "That's when The Jesus and Mary Chain were cool."


Well, there is sure to be a lot of that. But there is another reason: Psychocandy is one of those records that influenced thousands of musicians. For example, here are a few artists that we have reviewed here at EvilSponge who are influenced by this record: Xinlinsupreme, The Raveonettes, Brother In Law, Sonic Youth, A Place to Bury Strangers, Xiu Xiu, Alison's Halo, Ariel Pink's Haunted Grafitti, Asobi Seksu, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Celestial, Hood, A Classic Education, etc., etc., etc.

You see, on this album JAMC were not using their guitars as rhythm instruments, like every band prior to them had done. In fact, the rhythms here are primitive, just a sketch of a beat really. What was important was the textures they created out of the guitar distortion. The music is dense and growling and droning, but as you listen, especially on headphones, what you see is that it is a rich denseness that ebbs and flows in strange ways, enveloping the listener. (I have to admit, this makes a lot more sense if you have seen them live, where the effect is really pronounced.) This was their innovation, and this is why Psychocandy is so highly rated.

However, let's be honest, the average person reading music reviews could care less about innovation and influence, and most of these glowing reviews are colored with the rose-tinted glasses of hindsight. Most people want to listen to something that will move and entertain them, while not forcing them to work at it too hard. When they read a review of a record, they want to know if they will enjoy it.

For most humans and regarding Psychocandy, the answer is no. The dense texturing of these songs is hard to get through without context, which is why it took me so long to decide i liked this record. If you are willing to stick with it, this is a really beautiful album, but it requires a lot of patience and effort on the listener's part. So -- if you aren't willing to work for it, just ignore Psychocandy and move on.


Psychocandy is difficult listening music, at best. Yes, it's textural and at times quite lovely, but it's not that melodic or hooky.


Okay, disclaimer aside, let's talk about the band. Psychocandy was released in 1985, when The Jesus and Mary Chain was a four-piece act. Jim and William Reid were joined by Bobby Gillespie on drums and Douglas Hart on bass. Hart was a competent bassist and i like what he adds here, but he was not, overall, that influential on their sound.

Gillepsie, on the other hand, is a big part of what makes Psychocandy special. (And before you ask, yes this is the same Bobby Gillespie who went on to wider fame singing for Primal Scream in the 1990s.) His drumming is very simplistic, just a simple steady thudding. Gillespie is, in a way, the anti-Neal Peart, at least when it comes to drumming. Gillespie takes drumming back to its basics, to the simplest he can make it, which is why it was easy to replicate what he did with a drum machine on Darklands. However, live drumming recorded in a studio breathes in a way that the drum machine did not. Gillespie's presence here makes Psychocandy more than just Darklands with feedback.

There are thirteen songs on the record, the longest barely more than four minutes long. So, a lot of shorter tunes.

Just Like Honey kicks off the first album with a slow Bobby Gillespie drum riff, then bassist Douglas Hart comes in, thunking away. The guitars come in next, fuzzy and whining long slow notes. This is a lovely, slow song, with Gillespie clattering out a sauntering rhythm and Jim Reid muttering his vocals. At the end, a female backing vocalist comes in, adding a nice counterpoint to Reid's voice. This is a nice little song.

The Living End is like a prototype of this era of JAMC -- flat drums beat a dull thud while the guitars are distorted all to hell and back, squealing, screaming, soaring as the voice mutters on, vaguely disinterestedly. But JAMC are intent on letting you know that this level of feedback and fuzz is not new, as Taste the Floor takes their template back to its roots in the 1960s, with Phil Spector and The Shangri-las. One could almost believe that this is a cover. The Hardest Walk is similarly retro, only with a little jangle under the fuzz, making it more pop, less acid rock. This is a fun song.


Not surprisingly, with my retro love of Phil Spector and the wall of sound, my two favorites on this record are Taste the Floor and The Hardest Walk. Still, like all of this album, it took me years to accept that.


The next track, Cut Dead is very slow, almost like a folk ballad. The guitars really jangle here while Jim Reid sings nonsense syllables. This is about as happy as this record gets, folks, and it is a nonsensical happy at that. The happy moment is over quickly, moving into In a Hole, which, like The Living End is just a wall of noise. Jim Reid sings, "There is something dead in my hole". What, exactly, is this song about? Actually, nevermind - i think that i don't really want to know. This is a nice fast, noisy song though.

On Taste of Cindy the Reids play a grinding guitar that reminds me of Jail Guitar Doors by The Clash. However, there is way more distortion here, and the voice is an echoed haze.

One of my favorite JAMC tracks is up next, Never Understand. This has a great beat, Gillespie really working it, while Hart thumps away and the guitars squeal in agony. Over this, Jim Reid mutters, "You'll never understand me, yeah", and then proceeds to mutter some lyrics that i do, in fact, have a hard time understanding through the echo and the loud guitar. But who cares what he is saying, this has a great beat that positively bounces. I find it hard to stay still while this song is playing.


I hadn't really thought about Never Understand in that way before; now that PostLibyan points it out, this is a bouncy tune. Hmmm…..


On Inside Me they put a ton of echo on the drums, making it sound like Gillespie is playing in a concrete cistern. The guitars are so overdriven they are just a haze. The drums and the general wall of sound effect make me want to compare this to Phil Spector, but his wall of sound was smoother than this. This is dark noisy wall. This is one of the songs that would cause most of the people i know to ask me to change the CD.


Yep, this is where the band lost me on the first few hundred listens of Psychocandy. It's song like this that makes me understand why a person might like to listen to recordings of trains driving by. It might be more rewarding.


Sowing Seeds tones the echo down a bit, and hints towards where the band would go with Darklands. It is a sparser wall of sound than on the rest of Psychocandy, but also really catchy. It starts slow but builds into a bouncy little tune. Fun.

My Little Underground is similar to Inside Me, but Jim Reid is spitting his words out faster. I like this song, finding that it has a great rhythm and some really nice guitar textures, but i understand how other people might not care for it so much. You Trip Me Up is a very similar song.

Something's Wrong is like Sowing Seeds, another slower song that, if cleaned up a bit, could have fit on Darklands. This is a blues tune played through a metric ton of overdrive, twisting the slow, bent notes into strange shapes. And then, at the end there are some synth strings layered in, which is out of place for this record. To be honest i do not think they are necessary, but they do not sound terribly wrong. This song also clocks in at a whopping four minutes, the longest on all of Psychocandy.

And then, finally, we end the record with a down note on It's So Hard. I do not mean down in the sense that it is not a happy song, because JAMC don't really do happy lyrics. I mean down in the sense that this song is murky, not just echoed and distorted, but downright murky. It is, apparently, the only song on this record sung by William Reid, so perhaps his brother was just indulging him, but after the sheer catchy distortion of the last four songs, it is a letdown. Oh well.

  William Reid's deeper, almost depressive voice doesn't work as well in this context as it does on Darklands, another song he sings in the band's later catalogue. His voice is compelling enough that it stands on its own, which doesn't happen on It's So Hard, which is why this tune is a letdown.  

So, to sum up, Psychocandy is catchy pop music that has been wrapped up in lots of incredibly distorted guitarwork and general layers of fuzziness. At the core of it though, this is a pop record and the catchiness of the songs shines through, if you give it a chance. That is, i have found, a rather big "if".

Related Links:
Also on EvilSponge:
   An overiew of The Jesus and Mary Chain (lots of links)
   Album: Darklands
   Compilation: Barbed Wire Kisses
   Album: Automatic (1989)


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