At first listen, the album Psychocandy is startling, to say the least. In fact, if you hear it accidentally, you will probably think "oh my Lord! I'm being lobotomized and there's nothing I can do to stop it!" It should probably be cleared up that what you are hearing is not a chainsaw slicing through your medulla oblongata, but the dulcet tones of Jim and William Reid, the core brothers behind the curiously-named Jesus and Mary Chain*.
It starts off deceivingly sweetly, with the lovely (and somewhat well-known) song Just Like Honey. Everyone and their mother compares this song to Be My Baby by the Ronettes, which is pretty ridiculous when you think about it. I mean, they share a beat, but that's about it. Just Like Honey is drenched in cheap amp-distortion effects and there is no irritating, dramatic wall of sound. Also, what JAMC fan hasn't sung along to the sweet, mournful opening line "listen to the girl, as she takes on half the world"? For that matter, what JAMC fan hasn't felt like that's about them? We have a tendency to feel self-important and like victims of injustice.
Speaking of singing, it must be mentioned that Jim Reid's voice is not by any means pleasant. In fact, he was only elected the singer because he was a worse guitarist than his brother William (who is himself a pretty terrible guitarist). He spawned the line about guitars being attractive and producing nice sounds, and being useless beyond that. Jim likes to sing in a flat, too-cool-for-you monotone that will drive you insane if you enjoy, say, singers that are on key. Not that I don't love him all the same.
Anyway, the deceptive wistfulness of the opener leads directly into a very cool person's ode to his motorcycle, The Living End. "I get ahead on my motorbike/ I feel so quick in my leather boots," Jim snarls into the poor abused microphone, while his brother forces his guitar to make much louder, harsher noises than any instrument should have to and Bobby Gillespie slams away at the drums like a mechanical, angry drum machine. This is the first song that truly squeals with feedback so thick that when it cuts off, it sounds like it's been sliced.
Do not--do NOT--ever listen to this song on your headphones. It's like sitting next to a tree while a lumberjack cuts it down with an electric chainsaw, and then the tree falls on you and you go into a coma.
You know. Like that.
The snarling only gets more intense on Taste The Floor, while Bobby Gillespie impressively slams his drums so hard that they overpower that brain-searing feedback. The lyrics are bizarre, nihilistic, and a little bit scary; does anyone really want to know why Jim Reid is obsessed with a world where "the stars don't shine/ and all the walls fall down/ and all the fish get drowned"?
It is here that it must be noted that beneath all the feedback and distortion, there is indeed a melody, and it'd probably be a pretty catchy and entirely formulaic one if the boys gave it half a chance. Luckily, they realized that their three-chord structure would be incredibly boring if they didn't come up with a gimmick to legitimize it, and they discovered the technique of standing right next to their amps. It's a pretty impressive sound, I'm not gonna lie; these boys are cooler and harder than you will ever be, and they know it, and even though they weigh about eighty pounds each, they fully intend to kick your ass if you complain about the feedback. And they know that you will.
Some strange comparisons have been made to the Beach Boys here; well, that's understandable. I mean, assuming that they mean it sounds like some terrifying man in sunglasses raping the Beach Boys with Satan's pitchfork and carrying the sexiest, oldest, cheapest guitar you ever saw in your life. In any case, though, a few songs come to mind when I consider actual melodies.
For instance, Some Candy Talking; it uses the same basic structure as Just Like Honey (a handful of songs on this album do, it's weird), but in my opinion is much better. An ode to drugs--a beautifully written ode to drugs--it contains a fantastically cliched line that I can't help but adore anyway and quote frequently at a bunch of frustrated friends. "If all the stars shine in the sky/ they couldn't outshine your sparkling eyes," Jim Reid croons (croons...not likely) at some girl-love, and since the feedback is finally turned off, it doesn't come off as intimidating at all. It's a gorgeous song, really.
Another catchy little tune (one of the best to be found here, I think) is a very brief one, at 1:42. Taste Of Cindy, an ode to some cheating girl named Cindy, features the first instance of the Chain using their famous vowelled cries. In this case, it's "oh-oh-oh!" Maybe not the most impressive chorus, lyrically, but damned if it isn't great fun to sing it loudly on the Metro. In the morning. With all the suits. Yeah, I'm cool.
The three-chord Beach Boys wannabe structure is reused to great effect on one of the album's singles, and in my opinion the best single, You Trip Me Up. "Love like/ the mighty ocean/ when it's frozen/ that is your heart," Jim sings to his frosty lover. Ouch. I wouldn't want a Reid telling me I have no soul.
Drenched as it is in feedback (unlike its Cindy-featuring counterpart), and impossible as it is to listen on headphones, I return to it again and again, because it's really just a perfect song. Bobby Gillespie is, as always, a one-trick pony--and by the way, that's probably the irritating part here, that his drumming style involves hitting the same drum repeatedly to a pattern--but the melody is just so damn cool. It really is like listening to the Beach Boys without any discernible harmony, and without any references to California girls. (In fact, judging by their pallor, I doubt the Reids have ever set foot in California.) Three chords may be a boring structure, but if you pick three chords that sound cool together, you can stick together a melody that can't lose.
The most incredibly unlistenable track would have to be In A Hole, which features no harmony, no melody, enough feedback to worm through your head and turn your veins to blackness, and a perfect excuse to pop six Vicodin and never, ever listen to it again. It doesn't help that Jim Reid doesn't even bother trying to sing a melody here, instead mumbling a series of words in a painful monotone that has nothing to do with the chords behind it. Assuming there are chords behind it, and not just a cat being slaughtered and plugged into an amp.
Cut Dead is basically Just Like Honey again. Same drum pattern, a little less feedback, maybe a little bit like their contemporaries Joy Division when they were feeling uninspired. I am not a fan of this track by any means; you could listen to Just Like Honey, Some Candy Talking, or apparently Be My Baby if you were determined to hear a good version of this song. I'm not really that determined. I can live without more Joy Division.
Never Understand has a really cool vocal melody that slips and slides up and down the scale from line to line--it's hard to describe, and that really isn't quite right, because I doubt the JAMC know what the scale is. Nonetheless, though, once the chorus comes (a series of "uh-huh"s that command you to uh-huh along), your foot will be tapping and you'll have forgotten your pounding headache for awhile. They don't quite ease up on the feedback, but they generally prefer distortion on this track, so the chords are quite listenable and put together with some regard for what sounds right. It's not quite one of the Beach Boys imitator tracks, but it approaches that sound and creates one all its own--one of the best tracks for certain.
One of my favorite tracks, and admittedly kind of a schmaltzy one, is The Hardest Walk. It's strange how Jim Reid--a singer who sing-talks with an unmistakable and sometimes obnoxious monotone--manages to inject true emotion into lines like "the hardest walk you'll ever take/ is the walk you take from A to B/ to C," and "I walk, honey/ I talk." This is pretty much the only track I can think of that places any importance on the dynamics of a sound. It starts with William gently plucking his guitar (and here, he manages not to force it to create dreadful sounds that seem quite painful for the poor instrument), and then introduces some soft vocals. During the bridge they crank up the distortion on the guitar, and during...uh...part two of the bridge, all instruments disappear but the bass and bass drum, and then everything comes back again. It might not sound too impressive, but for the JAMC, it was a step in the direction that they would follow with their album Darklands.
The sounds coaxed from innocent instruments by the ruthless Chain were not pretty, they were not nice to hear, and the first time anyone hears Psychocandy, the only thing they will be able to think of will probably be what an apt title 'Psychocandy' is. Well, the 'psycho' part, anyway. Me, I listen to the album now and I can hear the candy in it, the melodies buried in the feedback, the insightful and incredibly depressed lyrics behind the monotone, the raw talent they chose to hide behind postures and intense coolness but which leaked through anyway. It is certain that this is not their most mature album, definitely not their most developed, and really not the best example for a newcomer to the Chain of what to expect. If you want a casual fan to be happy, buy them Darklands. If you want a rock aficionado to be happy, buy them Psychocandy. Even when you overdose on Excedrin, the Reids'll make it worth your while.
*Seriously, has anyone ever wondered what the hell that name means? I'm mystified.
Great Music to Play While: Having pieces of your brain forcibly removed by novice surgeons.
Read all 6 Reviews
Write a Review