Review Summary: Stuck between Old Beaten Hand and Plain Ol' Beaten...
All things move along according to hierarchy. It was inescapable after 80’s and 90’s chart mammoths first fell headfirst into reunion-mania, that relatively smaller critical darlings of the eras would soon hop onto the bandwagon. Admittedly, there’s less fanfare or expectation going around for a new Jesus and Mary Chain record nowadays than say, the Pixies or Depeche Mode. But it is a chance for plenty of people to dust off a crate of nostalgic vinyl, not to mention another household name kicking around on the summer festival circuit is sure to bump up sales from age groups that can actually comfortably afford tickets and hotels.
There are foreseeable extremes in the recent glut of reunion albums being pumped out with the steadiness of a piston on an up-stroke. Dinosaur Jr. may not have ever gone away, but their output since getting Lou Barlow back into the fold has ran the gamut of great to very solid. And the cluster-*** of new material that Guided by Voices put forth in the four years that Tobin Sprout spent re-imploding with them has had plenty of genuinely thrilling moments of that old magical amalgamate. These instances stand as the zenith of what a reunion could be. On the obverse of that sit formerly-untouchable kingpins like Soundgarden, or the Pixies, whose ill-informed “Indie Cindy” may very well go down in history as the greatest self-smear campaign of all time. Even Jesus and Mary Chain former 80’s cohorts Mazzy Star have already gone through the motions, releasing a comeback collection of familiar dreampop, before more or less fading back into the ether.
Mind you, the Jesus and Mary Chain aren’t exactly recently reconciled. The band has been touring semi-steadily since 2007, and since that time, they’d already covered all the bases of a prolonged reunion stint. A new single in 2008, box sets and remasters and B-side compilations, and a Greatest Hits pack on top. An album of new material was naturally the next box to tick.
There is something to be said for 80’s acts who’d either vanished or carried on through the next three decades. Bands like Mudhoney and Pearl Jam haven’t stopped touring or writing since their first induction, and even if their recent crop of work is spotty at best, it at least projects a band that is attempting to if not find new relevance, then at least age gracefully together. And in the case of Sonic Youth and PJ Harvey, you can find ones who've succeeded at doing so. More importantly, what it doesn’t feel like is a sentimental act taking a neutered stab at siphoning a bit of cash and regard while the reunion train’s got steam left.
As for the music itself, it is as adequate as it is indifferent. The two singles the band had released before the album, “Amputation” and “Always Sad,” cover the entirety of the range they tackle here; the first, hazy mid-tempo pop underlined by half-propelled guitars and synth, the other a jangly lovelorn ditty that seems ripped straight out of an hoary Gen-X movie. Songs that do feel more compelling like “Mood Rider” have been around since the band’s split, and regularly played on tour by William Reid. But even they feel slightly off, either too stiff or too flimsy, and in the case of “Simian Split,” cluttered and empty at the same time. It all blends seamlessly into the sequence of albums the band put out at the turn of the century, making it all the easier to forget just how dissonant and stirring and immediate their first few records were. This is not the melancholic abandon of “Darklands,” nor the thick curtain of industrialized squeal of “Psychocandy.” In fact, everything about this is as inoffensive and domesticated as you would expect from a group of able musicians in their 50’s. It all mirrors almost perfectly the comeback that Swervedriver have already staged; a band that once put electric fury through a sharp-witted prism, and who now seem content enough writing dreamy songs that sound so vaporous, they might spring a leak at any moment.
Listening to “Damage and Joy” is like bumping into a friend you hadn’t seen since college. He’s got a beer gut and stroller calluses on his hands, and he talks more about refinancing real estate than beer and pussy now. But just being there with him is enough to send you down a wistful lane.
This album was always going to be a 3. This band is too competent to put out anything less. Too tired to do better.