Review Summary: "We looked so good. We tried so hard. We lived our lives in black."
With their shambolic fifteen minute live sets, playing with their backs to the audience, stage(d) riots, clichéd shades and leather jackets, The Jesus and Mary Chain were the archetype of indie cool in the mid to late 80s. Their seminal debut album Psychocandy, flinging together the sounds of The Beach Boys, The Velvet Underground and The Sex Pistols, was voted no.1 in the NME end of year poll. Though the album had some awesome tracks, such as Just Like Honey
and Never Understand
, the ferocious guitar feedback coupled with some briefly sketched songs meant the second side especially didn’t lend itself to repeated listening.
However, their breakthrough top ten hit Some Candy Talking
introduced the themes that were to dominate their follow up album, sex and drugs: “I’m going down to the place tonight, a dark and hungry place, where all the stars shine in the sky, can’t outshine your sparkling eyes.” The influence of The Rolling Stones had supplanted The Sex Pistols. The songs were much more complete, the feedback was dropped, as was the drummer, one Bobby Gillespie, who went on to front Primal Scream.
In particular, this album is about infatuation. Every song is infused with a desperate yearning for someone who is out of reach: “I have ached for you, I have nothing left to give” (Nine Million Rainy Days
). This leads to a kind of existential despair: “Life means nothing. All things end in nothing" (Darklands
). But if life has become meaningless, there is still some kind of beauty and purity that can be achieved by going down so deep and so low, by plumbing the depths: “I’m sitting here warming to the coldness of things” Jim Reid muses in Deep One Perfect Morning
This gothic romanticism reaches a crescendo with the album’s lynchpin, the brooding Nine Million Rainy Days
, stealing from The Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil
: “Nine million rainy days have swept across my eyes thinking of you, and this room becomes a shrine thinking of you, and as far as I can tell, I’m being dragged from here to hell.” He feels as if he is sacrificing himself, like a form of martyrdom: “I would shed my skin for you, would break my back for you” on the stomping, almost jaunty Happy When It Rains
, a UK hit single.
Sexual and drug related imagery are used interchangeably throughout. Just as the desire for someone he can’t have is corrupting the soul, so the need for drugs is corrupting the body. The sex in these songs is always forbidden and dangerous: “making love on the edge of a knife” while the guitars swirl on another UK hit single, the breathless April Skies
; “barbed wire kisses” and female masturbation “scratching like a grain of sand, a trigger itch in the killer’s hand” on the urgent Beach Boys flavoured Cherry Came 2
With the last few songs there is at last a sense of redemption, of making it through to the other side. The masterful On The Wall
implies that only time itself can heal the pain. “There’s something warm about the rain, there’s something warm in everything, there’s something warm and good about you”, he croons in relief in About You
, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar and tambourine.
With this album, JAMC seemed on top of the world. The controversy and promise of their first album had been converted into critical acclaim and commercial success, with this second album producing two of their three hit singles. They had also spawned the new Shoegaze movement, with bands such as My Bloody Valentine and Dinosaur Jr trailing in their wake. Strangely, this was as good as it got. None of their future records achieved any kind of airplay and they seemed to drop like a stone from the public radar. The transatlantic sound of their third album, more amphetamine fuelled than the heroin feel of this album, alienated their UK fanbase, who had in any case moved on to Madchester (Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses) and the Rave scene.