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Barbed Wire Kisses

  The Jesus and Mary Chain  

Blanco Y Negro / Warner Brothers

Release Date:


Reviewed by:
  PostLibyan and Tracers  

A mere seven months after The Jesus and Mary Chain released their epic Darklands, they released a compilation of non-album tracks. To me, this seemed to be a really ballsy move. Everyone in suburban America knew that bands released their best work on albums, and that everything else might be interesting, but was probably not essential. How were we to know that in the UK, where JAMC hailed from, bands released singles and EPs and all sorts of stuff all the time. We had no way of knowing that. So, expecting the worse, i bought Barbed Wire Kisses (the title itself comes from the song Cherry Came Too, from Darklands) on cassette the spring before i graduated high school. It paled in comparison to Darklands, but there was still some really cool stuff here.

It is important to note that this was only the second JAMC release i , or that anyone i knew had ever seen. And, of course, we had no idea that this record contained their first single, which had brought them the notoriety to record albums that we would eventually hear in suburban Atlanta. However, now that i look back, that is probably exactly why they released this -- it pulls together all of the relaly early stuff we never saw in America.

There were 16 tracks on that cassette i bought in 1988, which has long since been destroyed, and 20 on the CD i bought later to replace it. We will get to those four extra tracks in time.

Barbed Wire Kisses starts off with noise. A motorcycle grinds, then a steady flat drum beat kicks in, and then the guitars, all fuzzed out. The song is Kill Surf City, which i had first heard when Nisla Dean bought the April Skies 12" single. This was on the b-side, and it is noisy, chaotic fun, just the Reid brother making a racket with their guitars.


Kill Surf City is, as the name suggests, an amalgamation of the fuzzy, distorted musicality of The Jesus and Mary Chain and the surfy pop of a 60s group like, say, Jan and Dean. Not surprisingly, these two pop styles go quite well together, which is perhaps why this tune is my favorite on Barbed Wire Kisses.


The noise continues with Head, which is a b-side to a song from Psychocandy. In that era, the Reid brothers had a drummer and a bassist, and indeed the basswork on this song is more interesting than any bass i had heard by them to date. In general, this is pretty good: the bass grinds, the drums keeps a steady hi-hat tapping, and the guitars squeal as Jim Reid sings through echo.


Head always surprises me I don't think of a rhythm section per se when I think this band, so hearing a track that features something that wasn't as sterile as the low end as Darklands always felt like growth and expansion to me. Of course, at the time I thought that, I didn't realize that this pre-dated what I thought of as the "expected" Jesus and Mary Chain sound.


Rider is next, one of the b-sides to the Darklands 12" single. This really sounds like a b-side. It takes several elements from the Darklands album and blurs them together while not really going anywhere.

Hit is really dark, even for the Reids. It is a track from an EP called Some Candy Talking (which i have never seen a copy of, to this day), and is a mess of deep thudding drums, moaning vocals, and slow grinding guitars. It is eerie, in a fever-dream sort of way.

Things shift gears for Don't Ever Change, which is an outtake from Darklands. It would have fit right in on that album (perhaps this instead of Fall would have been a better choice). This is a vaguely bluesy song, with one guitar a strummed acoustic, and the other a slowly grinding electric. It takes a little while to really get going, but eventually a tambourine comes in, and it really works.

And next we have the very first song by A Place To Bury Strangers. Well, not literally. Just Out of Reach is the Reids exploring noise, thwacking at their guitars and torturing them while the drum machine beats loudly. When i first heard this, i thought it was a cool, aggressive noise fest, but i now realize that everything i have heard by A Place to Bury Strangers is an attempt to recreate this one song, and then expand on it. Huh.


Wow! I never thought of it that way before. But, I'll be darned: you're right. It is very A Place to Bury Strangers. Who knew?


Happy Place was the b-side to Happy When It Rains, and, indeed, this is a fun, short tune. It has a happy little melody and some nicely grinding guitars.

Next we have Psycho Candy which is actually another EP track. However, even though it comes from the lost 1986 EP and is named after the 1985 record, this is a slow blues ballad that could easily have fit on Darklands. It is a pretty, quiet song, that would fit nicely in between On the Wall and About You. It was also the end of the first side of the cassette.

Flip the cassette over and we get the single for Barbed Wire Kisses, Sidewalking. This was recorded for this record, i believe, and it is really the first song in the style that they would use on Automatic. They have stopped programming the drum machine to ape their original drummer Bobby Gillespie and instead are using a more frantic early electronica beat. However, the guitars are still a little bluesy, and they do grind nicely. But overall, i give this song a big "meh".


I think what gets PostLibyan at this point is that Sidewalking is, relatively speaking, "clean" when one expects this band to be sort of messy in a sonic sense. I like the crispness of it. But then again, I like Automatic too.


The next two tracks, however, really pick up the mood and in fact help make this a great record. They are both, oddly enough, covers. Up first is Who Do You Love?, the old Bo Diddley classic and which was a b-side to April Skies. The drum machine is flat and angry sounding, just thunking metallically in the background, as the guitars are a wall of fuzzy, squealing feedback, and the vocals are an anguished moan full of derision as they sing "Who do you love?".

The second cover is the old Beach Boys classic Surfin' USA which, growing up in America, i had heard approximately five billion times on the radio before i heard JAMC tear thought it. They take the happy Beach Boys harmonies and gentle melodies and speed them up while layering them under gobs of distortion, turning a staple of oldies radio into a noisy romp. And then, in the middle, during the instrumental break, the two brothers scream (not in harmony) and beat the tar out of their guitars. Great stuff.


You see, I think this cover is a perfect extension of the style the band explored back on Kill Surf City. It has the same wall of distortion meets surf feel (naturally) and I've always rather like this version of a "golden oldie". Nice!


The win continues with Everything's Alright When You're Down, another Happy When It Rains b-side. It has a steady drum beat that drives it along, and guitars that really grind.

Next we mix things up, bringing in Upside Down, which was their very first single. This is a sheer noise fest, just under three minutes of tortured guitar, Gillespie's flat sparse drumming, and echoed vocals. This sounds primitive, angry, and strange. When i first heard this, back in 1988, it was like nothing i had ever heard before. How could a song with squealing guitars be so poppy and catchy?


Another thing I never considered until I revisited Barbed Wire Kisses is how much the tracks on this compilation ended up influencing my taste in music. I tend to think of Darklands as the end state for The Jesus and Mary Chain. But yet, when I go back and relisten to things like Upside Down, I can see why years later I would like a band such as My Bloody Valentine.


An acoustic version of Taste of Cindy is next. Of course, the original noisefest version of this is on Psychocandy, which i had not heard before i heard Barbed Wire Kisses, so to me, the acoustic version will always be the original, the way the song is meant to be heard. It is a pretty song, the vocals hushed and the guitar light and delicate.

The next song, Swing is another Darklands outtake. However, it is pretty generic, not really going anywhere with uninteresting guitarwork and monotonous vocals. This is my least favorite song on the record, and perhaps it should have stayed in the vaults.

But the next tune, which is the last song on the cassette, is simply amazing. It is the demo of On the Wall, William Reid's dirge from the end of Darklands. The vocals are the same, only much faster, perhaps spurred along by the happy drum machine beat that dominates the tune, or maybe by the two loud layers of chiming guitar. What was a sad, slow song becomes a happy, dancey, new wave tune. I really like this version, a lot.

After On the Wall ends, there is a brief silence, and then there is a few minutes of the Reid's messing around. This "hidden track" is attached to the On the Wall CD track. It is apparently called F. Hole and is nothing but squealing guitar and a sample of rain. It is short, but i still wish it was a separate track on the CD. On the cassette, i would just hit fast forward when the noise started, then flip the tape over to be back at Kill Surf City.

Now we are into the tunes that i did not hear until years later, when i got the CD. The first of these is Cracked, another b-side from the Psychocandy era. It is all slow drums and guitar squeal, with vocals that vary between moaning and screaming. However, as i listen to it on headphones, it sounds like the bassist was playing the riff from Googoomuk by The Cramps behind the noise. Strange, but still not a particularly good track.

On Here It Comes Again (another of Darklands' b-sides), the Reids bury their guitars under masses of tremolo, so the whole song seems to shake as it moves along. This is unusual for them, as they tend to prefer overdrive and other types of fuzzy feedback. However, it works. It is a decent little tune.

The last b-side from April Skies is next, JAMC covering Mushroom live in 1986. This is a song by Can, a German band that no one i knew had ever heard of back in 1988. It has a monotonous rhythm, and Jim Reid singing in a monotone, the lyrics forming a strange, hesitant rhythm. I am still not a big fan of Can, and to be honest have no idea if i have ever heard the original. This version is okay, i guess.

And then finally the CD ends with Bo Diddley Is Jesus, three minutes of overdriven blues riffing and general screaming. It is the perfect end to the CD, seeming to encompass all the rest of the compilation in one final burst of feedback.


Exactly. You must have feedback. Lots and lots of feedback. Otherwise, it's just not a full The Jesus and Mary Chain experience.


Overall, this is excellent for a B-sides and outtakes compilation, which goes to show just how "on" the Reid brothers were in the late 80s. They continued to impress me. This is a very different than Darklands, but it is very worthwhile in its own right. If you have been interested in anything they have done, then Barbed Wire Kisses is an excellent acquisition.

Related Links:
Also on EvilSponge:
   An overiew of The Jesus and Mary Chain (lots of links)
   Album: Darklands
   Album: Automatic (1989)
   Album: Psychocandy (1985)


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