Making Reviews for Nigel #4
Diego Basaldu | Posted on March 05, 2019
Design: Greg Allen & Photography: Alastair Indge, Bleddyn Butcher, Chris Clown, Mike Laye, Rona McIntosh, & Stuart CassidyFront sleeve of Psychocandy
*Artist: The Jesus and Mary Chain *Released: November 18, 1985 *Genre: Alternative/Noise pop
Top 3 songs: Something’s Wrong (#3), In a Hole (#2), Never Understand (#1)
Extra Fact: The band’s live performances would last between 10 – 15 minutes and almost end with riots
Personal ranking: 10/10
Unbiased ranking: 9.5/10
While I was watching a documentary about the alternative scene of the 1980s, they mentioned Echo & The Bunnymen as a group who helped bring the genre into the light among previously mentioned artists. I knew them, but I didn’t recognize the song they (the documentary people, not the band) were playing in the background while the host spoke a little more about Echo & The Bunnymen. I couldn’t understand the lyrics because the singing was mumbled and low, and there was this loud feedback throughout the song. I understood nothing except that the song was badass. I loved it. The feedback and everything. I was determined to find the song. I first listened to Echo & The Bunnymen’s first album, Crocodiles, but the song was not there (good debut album though). None of the songs on the album sounded remotely close to that song. I looked up live performances from their debut, but none had any feedback incorporated purposely into the songs. I gave up on the search for the song.
About a month would pass until I would accidentally rediscover the song. I was listening to Richard Blade do his segment called The Magnificent Seven (named after the song by The Clash) where he would look back at the charts of the week during a certain year. The year was 1987 during the month of April (I don’t remember the day of the week). He played a song that had been the highest charting single for a band since their debut in single 1984. The band’s name was The Jesus and Mary Chain, and the song was “April Skies” (how fitting). I enjoyed the song. It was very relaxing, yet it also pumped me up. I looked up the band to see what other songs and albums they had in their discography. The first image to catch my eye was an album titled Psychocandy. The black and red coloring, as well as who I assumed to be the band members (it was just the Reid brothers) posing on the front cover. It looked interesting, but the song titles didn’t really catch my interest to listen to the album. (What kind of name is “In a Hole”?)
A week later I was on YouTube watching Amoeba’s “What’s In My Bag?” featuring Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris from New Order. They were showcasing what they bought while at a record store. Gillian had purchased a live recording of The Jesus and Mary Chain. After speaking about the band for a small bit, Amoeba proceeded to show a clip of the band live at the BBC. I was confused while watching the clip because the drummer was standing up while he drummed. I looked up BBC Jesus and Mary Chain, and I found the clip. I enjoyed the song a lot. It was different. The song was called “In a Hole.” I remembered I saw it as a track on the album. I made a poor judgment on the track’s name (I never did that again in the future), so I went back to researching The Jesus and Mary Chain. I saw that their first major hit was a single they released called “Upside Down.” I decided to give the song a listen. I found the song under the expanded edition of Psychocandy. I clicked on it to start my beginning journey in the sound of The Jesus and Mary Chain, and the first instrument I heard was the drums. Cool. Then it entered- the feedback. My eyes and ears opened at the sound of the feedback. This was the song. This was that badass song I had been trying to find. I put it on replay and heard it over and over, increasing the volume every time it restarted until I got a headache from the feedback. I was blown away by the song and immediately went to the regular version of Psychocandy to listen to the debut album of The Jesus and Mary Chain.
“Just Like Honey” starts the album as a calm, slow-paced track (calm compared to the rest of the album’s tracks). The drum at the beginning of the song is a homage to the song “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes, who were a major influence on the band (the drum beat will return on “Sowing Seeds”). You can hear the influence the 60s girl group had on the Mary Chain. It’s a smooth sounding track with slight distortion on the guitar. The song’s lyrical meaning has been debated about what it really is about. Is it a crude reference to a performance of oral sex on a girl, or is it about a love for a girl named Honey? That’s for each listener to decide while listening to the repeating of “just like honey” sweetly sung by Jim Reid and Karen Parker (Bobby Gillespie’s then girlfriend). “The Living End” is literally an end to calm and an introduction to noise. The song describes an enjoyment of riding a motorcycle (which describes the “living” of the song) until the rider goes too fast that he crashes and dies (obviously the “end”). The song gives the illusion of being on a motorbike with its faced paced beat and guitars, and the added feedback into the song. I love how the song’s title gives a category to riding a motorcycle. It gives other dangerous enjoyments a category to belong inside (drug use). The track ends, but the noise lives on in “Taste the Floor.” Everything on this song sounds distorted. Jim’s voice is pushed to the back. The preference is all in the noise. I don’t understand what the song is about, but I enjoy the combination of Jim’s steady paced vocals paired with his brother’s distorted guitar and additional feedback appearing when needed to intensify the song. “The Hardest Walk” sounds like a 60s pop song if the sound was calmed down. This is a good track to hear the Reid brother’s inspiration from 60s girl pop groups. The song is more gentle sounding than the previous song, and Jim’s voice is brought back into the spotlight, giving this song its 60s girl “pop” sound. Their influence is only more noticeable with “Cut Dead.” No noise. None is needed is for this slow track. With an acoustic guitar strumming, a steady, swaying beat, and Jim’s soft voice singing “da da da da da,” “uh uh uh uhhh,” and “hey hey hey,” “Cut Dead” sounds like nothing as you would expect from the title. The track is in a perfect position being in the middle of side one. It gives you a chance to calm yourself from the previous feedback lead tracks. You can close your eyes and sway to one of the calmer “pop” tracks of the album. All of what was heard on “Cut Dead” is immediately forgotten with “In a Hole” screeching its way into your ears. It’s driven by Bobby Gillespie’s standing drumming, Douglas Hart’s two-string bass, (he was missing two on a four-string bass, and when asked why he didn’t just buy two more strings he replied with “because its all I f@#*ing need”), and of course William Reid’s guitar feedback. Watching them play this song live for the BBC sounded nothing like the album version. I enjoyed watching them perform, but the track sounds better on the album. The noise is amplified to the max, but not as beautiful sounding as it is on “Upside Down.” I never cared for the lyrics on this track, I just loved the noise, the drums, the bass, Jim’s voice… just the whole sound of the song. “God spits in my soul/There’s something dead inside my hole.” Yeah, sure whatever. Just give me more noise. They answered my wish towards the end of the song. A giant climax (around the 1:58 mark) of Jim yelling “heart and soul” (a “heart and f@#*ing soul” to change it up) with the feedback intensifying. He eventually just starts screaming and grunting at the end with nothing but the drums and feedback being the last to finish the song. “Taste of Cindy” is next and it’s really a great way to finish side one. Calming down (as in the feedback isn’t constant through the song) from “In a Hole,” we get a song about our love for Cindy. Cindy the whore (I can say that cause its in its correct grammatical context; Black Francis can back me up). Jim Reid returns with his “uh uh uh” incorporated in the song’s almost Beach Boy styled lyrics. The track’s sound, including feedback, perfectly parallel the painful thoughts of remembering Cindy. We love Cindy, but she’s always with other guys later, and it pains us to see her with them. We’ve all had a Cindy (whore or not). Or a Honey. Especially if you still have feelings for an ex, but they’ve moved on “talking to everyone.”
“Never Understand” is my favorite track on the album. We have feedback first, then a bass line, and finally adding the guitar and drums. Everyone has a song they claim describes them the best. This is my song. It’s just teenage angst of how people “never understand me.” People may never understand what I like and what I do, but I don’t care. If people stare, then people stare (thanks for the advice Morrissey). If they don’t want to accept who I am, well then “I’m not staying” with them anymore. The song is energetic thanks to the bass and guitar fusing perfectly together through the feedback. The best part is the random screaming at the end of the song (probably cursing with their favorite word). It gives me a laugh every time. I can always rely on “Never Understand” to pump me up for the day ahead. Moving away from the energy of the previous track, “Inside Me” stumbles next inline on the album. Jim’s voice has calmed with him unenthusiastically singing about his seeing his “head expand.” (Perhaps about drugs?) The pitch of the feedback is higher than the previous tracks. The sound of the track gives off a dazing vibe (defiantly about drugs). The song ends with Jim repeating that something is “living inside me.” Its calm for a track that uses feedback, but that doesn’t mean the sound is soft. As “Inside Me” ends, a familiar drumbeat reappears. The vibes of the album’s begging track return. “Sowing Seeds” could have just been titled “Just Like Honey’ II,” but we aren’t talking about Honey anymore. We’re talking about belonging in a group (being understood). A group of “candy people.” The only way to join them is drugs. Taking drugs with others is how we fit into the group. We sow our seeds to be a part and understood by others. We don’t want to be outcasted or bullied, so we change ourselves just to have friends and “peace.” Another Mary Chain song with relatable lyrics. The song ends with our attempt of “sowing seeds,” and “My Little Underground” reverses all that planting. The song gives off a Ramones inspired tune destroyed with the distortion of the guitar. Not quite as energetic as “Never Understand” but gives an interesting blend of Ronettes and Beach Boys in sound. Lyrically, instead of going out to be socially accepted, we instead avoid any contact and hide in our “little underground.” We choose to not make any social interactions while it’s “cold outside.” “Sowing Seeds” and “My Little Underground” are the two results of what path you decide to take with “Never Understand.” You can choose to try being understood by changing yourself, or you can enjoy yourself and avoid any more interaction with the outside world. Each diverse in its sound, but unified in its lyrical context. “You Trip Me Up” severs from “My Little Underground” by utilizing the new reoccurring theme of drugs, as well as the previous side’s theme of love. A steady bass and drum beat lead Jim to sing about heartache and drug intake. The song has eerie feedback, sounding both like howling wind and screaming. It only intensifies as the song progresses, until finally fading out in the end. A new beat is given life accompanied with those classic 60s “do do doooo”s. The song’s tone changes from being a potential dance track to a depressed, slow ballad. “Something’s Wrong” was a track I never expected to hear on Psychocandy. Jim’s vocals give a sense of hopelessness in life. A low felt after you’ve come down from being high (classic drugs). The feedback and Gillespie’s drumming contradict the atmosphere being produced by Jim Reid. This is a perfect song to listen to on a cold, grey, windy, depressing, rainy day (unless it’s just raining, then listen to “Happy When It Rains”). The song is a small preview into what their next album, Darklands, will develop their sound to follow closely to “Something’s Wrong” (minus the feedback). That track will always stand out to me on the album. The depressing melody is followed by the final track, “It’s So Hard.” A low drum beat with low feedback in the background allows Jim Reid to sing in a low, gasping voice. William’s guitar sometimes mimics his brother’s vocals, all while Hart’s bass never changes throughout the song. The song touches about it being hard to get “love,” but the rest is up to interpretation. Unless it means absolutely nothing because The Jesus and Mary Chain just wanted to change the “rubbish” being played on the radio.
They were anti-pop. The more noise they made, the more satisfied they were of reversing the poison played from the radio. Lyrics of drugs, sex, and alienation were explored in a headache-inducing album. Psychocandy is diving into a world driven by noise and determination. The determination to reverse the status quo of what making music means to a band and audience. The Jesus and Mary Chain would move on from their noise-driven songs, but they saw it necessary to change music at the time. The Reid brothers were shy. Jim Reid used to have to be drunk in order to perform. Je would curse out his audience. Nothing about them was the standard image of a rising “pop” or “rock” group. They were none of that. They were different. They were alternative. They were noisy. They were determined to change music. They changed music. They inspired others to change music. They are The Jesus and Mary Chain. This is Psychocandy.