Where To Start With... The Jesus & Mary Chain
The history of rock music is littered with examples of sibling rivalry and hell-raising antics on the road, from Keith Moon throwing television sets out of hotel windows to the often very public feuding between the likes of the Gallagher brothers, or The Kinks' Ray and Dave Davies. In most cases, these stories are a sideshow to the music, but in the case of Scottish alt-rock band The Jesus and Mary Chain the chaos that seemed to gravitate towards the band is almost as much a part of their story as their creative output.
Formed in the late 1970s in East Kilbride, home of brothers and founding members Jim and William Reid, The Jesus and Mary Chain began life with £300 given to them by their father, part of the redundancy package he received after losing his job at a local factory, which the brothers used to buy a 4-track Portastudio and began making their own demos. Inspired by bands like the Ramones and The Velvet Underground, the band relocated to Fulham and eventually their demos found their way to Creation Records founder Alan McGee, via mutual friend Bobby Gillespie. McGee not only released their debut single but became the band's manager, with Gillespie recruited later as their drummer.
The band soon gained a reputation for themselves, and not just because of their music. Though they appeared swaggeringly confident and were frequently confrontational in interviews, the brothers were also chronically shy about performing live and usually combatted their pre-show nerves by getting as drunk as possible, playing with their backs to the audience during frenetic, feedback-drenched live sets that would last as little as 15 minutes, which in turn often provoked angry reactions from the audience. Perhaps the most infamous example was their gig at North London Polytechnic in 1985, which escalated into a full-blown riot by the end of the band's all-too-brief set.
It was hardly an isolated incident. After reports of the riot were featured in various newspapers, Jesus and Mary Chain gigs became a target for people looking for a fight and for while, much to the band's irritation, their reputation as hell-raisers often overshadowed their music. To make matters worse, the brothers themselves had a fractious relationship and would often end up in drink-fuelled fights with each other while on the road, sometimes onstage in he middle of a show. It was one such fight at the end of a particularly gruelling tour in support of their final album, 1997's Munki, that led to the band's eventual demise. “After every tour we wanted to kill each other, and during the final tour we tried”, William would later say of the incident.
It was, then, something of a shock when the Reid brothers appeared onstage together 10 years later at Coachella, a sight made all the more unusual by the spectacle of Scarlett Johansson joining them onstage for a rendition of 'Just Like Honey', a song featured on the soundtrack for her recent film Lost in Translation. The brothers appeared to have reconciled their differences, but while the following years saw several reissues and Best Of collections being released, the idea of hem going back into the studio still seemed pretty remote. Then, in 2015, William Reid announced that the band were heading into the studio to record their first new material since 1997, working with Martin 'Youth' Glover as producer. After releasing two singles in recent months, this week their first album in two decades, Damage and Joy, finally arrives in stores.
Featuring 14 new songs, Damage and Joy includes the two singles 'Amputation' and 'Always Sad', the latter featuring Jim Reid duetting with guest vocalist Bernadette Denning, both of which offer a glimpse into what you can expect from the new album, which is pretty much what you would expect: fizzing guitars, catchy melodies and razor-sharp lyrics. Age may have mellowed the brothers a little, but not so much that the music suffers and the Reids provide ample proof here that they haven't lost their innate knack for coming up with hooks that get trapped in your head for days. Elsewhere on the album there's also a guest appearance from Sky Ferreira, who adds vocals to track that Jim Reid first previewed back in 2011, 'Black and Blues'.
You can find the video for 'Always Sad' below, beneath that we've picked five other key tracks from the band's career as a guide for the uninitiated...
The band's debut single, released in 1984, was one of the earliest releases on Alan McGee's newly-formed Creation Records imprint and is the perfect example of what the Jesus and Mary Chain – particularly in those early, formative years – were all about: lo-fi aesthetics, wonky vocals, fizzing guitars and, of course, loads of feedback. But somewhere buried in the auditory chaos is a melody that could've been on a song by The Ronnettes or the Shangri-las and against the backdrop of a music scene dominated by synthesisers and electro-pop, it was completely and utterly unique.
'Just Like Honey'
The opening salvo from the Jesus and Mary Chain's critically-acclaimed debut album Psychocandy remains one of their most enduring tunes and shows another side to a band best known for their frenetic, noisy antics. Featuring a backbeat that sounds like it was lifted straight from a Phil Spector record – provided by Bobby Gillespie, no less – 'Just Like Honey' finds the band at their most melodic and proves that there was always more to the band than just guitars turned up to 11.
'Happy When It Rains'
Not to be confused with the Garbage single with a similar name that arrived several years later, this cut from the band's 1987 sophomore album, Darklands, exhibited a more refined, less chaotic sound than the songs on their debut, allowing their more melodic tendencies to shine through, but it still has that same raw energy that made the band such an electrifying prospect and its lyrics are some of William Reid's most poetic.
'Blues From A Gun'
The band's 1989 album Automatic wasn't one of their best-reviewed, particularly in the UK, but it did produce some of their most commercially successful singles on the other side of the Atlantic and 'Blues From A Gun' represented the first and only time that the band scored a Number One in Billboard's Alternative Rock Chart, staying at the top for three weeks. The whole album was recorded with just the two Reid brothers and a drum machine, with some in-studio help from from Alan Moulder, and while it isn't as wild as some of the earlier records it still has some great moments and this, along with 'Gimme Hell' and 'Head On', is one of its best.
Our final pick is probably one of the most radio-friendly songs the Jesus and Mary Chain ever released and features frontman Jim Reid duetting with Mazzy Star vocalist Hope Sandoval, William Reid's girlfriend at the time. Taken from 1993's Stoned and Dethroned, the single was also amongst the band's most commercially successful. Even though it was recorded at a time when the relationship between the Reid brothers was deteriorating to the point of being unworkable, the decision to bring in other musicians and record as a full band again rather than a duo seemed to produce a moment of creative harmony and there's no better example on the album than this.