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The Jesus and Mary Chain


Blanco Y Negro / Warner Brothers

Release Date:


Reviewed by:
  PostLibyan and Tracers  

I have an old videocassette called Mr. Bragg Goes to Moscow (And Norfolk, VA Too) in which a film crew follows British punk folk singer Billy Bragg on a tour behind the iron curtain. Out behind some tiny disco where Billy was playing, the film crew cornered Russian music legend Boris Grebenshikov, who sat on the back stairs of the club chugging vodka and chain smoking. During the interview he said something very wise that has always stuck with me. "You always remember best the music you were listening to when you were 17," he said around a mouthful of smoke. "For me that was The Beatles. For Billy ..." he gestured back towards the stage with his cigarette, "it was The Clash."

And for me, it was The Jesus and Mary Chain, although technically i did not turn 17 until 2 months after this record came out. Still, Darklands made up a lot of the soundtrack to my senior year of high school, as well as the many (many) years since then.

I first heard Darklands on a crummy old record player in the media room of my high school's library, during the smart kids class. We were often left unsupervised to work on projects by ourselves, and one Monday Lisa Morris produced the vinyl of this record from her insanely large purse/bookbag. She had bought it just that weekend at Wax N Facts in Little Five Points, and since it was a brand new record, she brought it in to share. It was probably not a really smart decision to play a brand new record on an old public school turntable, but we were teenagers and didn't think about such things. I don't even remember what project we were working on as we listened to Darklands for the very first time.

I know that i liked it so much that i asked Lisa to tape it for me. I brought in a blank cassette the next day, which she took it home and copied the record onto, leaving masses of blank space that i had to fast forward to in order to get to the other side of the 60 minute tape. So on the Wednesday of the week after this record came out, i had a copy of my own. And i listened to it compulsively: i know every note, every chord, and can sing (poorly) along to all of the songs. This is one of my favorite records ever, and my introduction to this band as well. Much of my love for JAMC is due purely to Darklands.


Darklands is how PostLibyan and I first bonded. Despite the fact that this record came out before PostLibyan and I knew each other (we've know each other for ... mumble mumble ... going on 25 years at this point), I too had an epiphany to The Jesus and Mary Chain. I think I read somewhere about how Darklands was this brilliant record, so I bought it without hearing a note. At that time, I was more into straight-up American punk, although I know my favorite song was Haunted by The Pogues. I recall popping in my handy dandy cassette tape and from the first notes of side one (the title track, Darklands), my little brain exploded in joy and confusion. I had never ever heard anything like this ... and I absolutely loved it. To this day, I'll never know why it resonated so strongly, but I suspect that in 80s suburban Atlanta this combination of distortion and melody and joyous gloom was something just made sense to my disaffected, angsty self.

So I forced all of my friends to listen to Darklands over and over again, but none of them had a revelation. But then, a year later, PostLibyan and I met and quickly discovered our affinity for this record. Finding someone else who liked the same music I did was so very wonderful and we became fast friends. So, in many ways Darklands is the genesis for the website you're reading today.


Before i get into the songs, a few general notes. Yes, this is the second JAMC record, and it came after several singles and EPs as well. They were well known by then -- so well known in fact that their records were available to us in suburban Atlanta. No one i knew had ever heard anything by them before Darklands. I don't think that Album 88, our local alterna-station, even had any of the previous releases. So i am starting my review of this band here. Your perception of Darklands will no doubt be based on what else by the band you were familiar with when you got here. Each JAMC record is very different, which helps keep them interesting i guess, but also means that when you listen to a different record by them it takes a lot of adjustment.

It is also interesting to note that Darklands was recorded by just Jim and William Reid. The band was a duo at this point, having shed the rhythm section from their first few releases and splitting those duties. Then again, as far as i knew at the time, they were always a duo with a drum machine.

The record kicks off with the title track, one guitar tinkling along, one grinding slowly and sparsely, a simple bass riff, and William Reid singing. It is a slow, bluesy number, the Reid brothers massaging notes out of their guitars slowly, almost lovingly. It grows and grows, until the guitars are chugging and the brothers are chanting, "de do de do de doooo" as the guitars soar. Utterly lovely.


Darklands is a tune that evokes its very title, with its laconic pace and eerie guitars. It has a dark feel, which becomes almost claustrophobic as the guitars build and build. Thinking back, I can see why I found this one so stunning upon first listen I know I had never heard anything like this before.


Deep One Perfect Morning continues the mellow vibe, Jim Reid crooning along as the guitars pick along slowly, then grinding as the song picks up pace. It's a pretty little song that flows nicely from the previous tune, and has a lyric that i have always loved, "Better to paint my hate on the wall before the picture goes". The melody and tempo are generally upbeat, but once you start paying close attention to the lyrics, this was not a happy band. I like the contrast between the moody lyrics and shining guitarwork, and that dichotomy is very noticeable here.

And then we have Happy When It Rains the first of three truly amazing songs on this record. "Step back and watch the sweet thing / Breaking every thing she sees," Jim Reid drawls over a chugging bass line, a frantic drum beat, and the two guitars chiming along. This is a lovely, catchy, happy tune that moves along at a great pace. To this day, whenever i am stuck in the rain, or looking out a window at rain, or when one of my online friends in the UK complains about how it is raining (i.e., anytime i talk to a Briton), this song comes to mind: in my head i hear "...and that's why I'm happy when it rains, I'm happy when it pours." Sing it, Jim!

  Underneath the echoes and effects, at heart Happy When It Rains is a perfect pop tune, with a bouncy beat and soaring chorus that just makes you want to dance and spin around. If you ever want to see something funny, play this song when both PostLibyan and I are around. We'll stop and immediately begin to sing along (poorly) and even harmonize (even more wretched). It's just that type of song.  

Actually, you would probably be better off not hearing that.

Okay, moving along... After that bout of fun, they hit us with another truly awesome song, Down on Me. A guitar picks a quick scale, and then the drum machine comes in, hitting flat and sparse and fast. (Later i realized that on this one song, the Reid's programmed the machine to imitate Bobby Gillespie's playing on Psychocandy.) Then Jim Reid sings, "Sometimes i can fake a smile, but still the world looks down on me" and he proceeds to sing about a general and unfocused frustration with life for two verses while he and his brother strum furiously and smash pedals... When i was 17, i played this song LOUD and i played it often, and Jim Reid singing about being 25 made him seem so old to me... But that was a long time ago.

They bring it down a bit with Nine Million Rainy Days, a slow dirge, with a hi-hat tapping beat, deeply thunking bass, and William Reid whispering his words. The song grows slowly, and ends with them singing "de do do do dooo" in a way that reminds me, vaguely, of Sympathy for the Devil. This song is a nice interlude, sandwiched between Darklands most epic tunes.

Back in the day, i had to flip the tape over at this point, which meant that side B started with the awesome April Skies, which is as perfect of a pop tune as the 80s could produce. It starts off with the guitars crunching away, then Jim Reid sings disinterestedly, like he is bored with the vocals. The guitars trade licks, until the song builds into a chiming flurry, the drum machine chugging away as the guitars echo and grind. Simply lovely. Here in Georgia, April is normally a great month, after the cold has gone but before the bad heat hits. A month of early blossoms on the trees, long warm days and cooler nights. A month full of promise and relief. And somehow, two Scotsmen summed up that month in four minutes. Amazing.


I think I could listen to April Skies on repeat for hours on end, and always here some new tone and echo that I never noticed before. This aspect I suspect is where my love of reverb and chorus and distortion comes from: the effects throughout Darklands in general and April Skies in particular give the notion that there is instrumentation in play which aren't even there. Truthfully, I may love Happy When It Rains more, but April Skies is almost as brilliant.


But next, the Reid brothers disappoint me. Fall is the weakest song here, a grinding noisy mess that never seems to really go anywhere. It is the point on Darklands where they get closest to what they were doing on Psychocandy, only this tune is not quite as catchy as that record. Of course, i didn't know that when i first heard this, as no one i knew had Psychocandy. Instead, this stuck out as strange and out of place. And i also think that the reason i disliked Psychocandy when i first heard it is because i thought "It's a whole record of Falls."

They recover for Cherry Came Too, which keeps with the bluesy distorted to hell and back vibe of Darklands. This is a slowish tune with a bouncy melody, that just kind of glides along, until it gets to a nice guitar solo that fills the middle of it, one of the Reid's picking along nicely.

William takes the lead vocal on his second dirge on this record, On the Wall. He sings here like he is heartbroken, like at any point in time he might just break down. He sings over a constant drum tap, one slowly chiming guitar, and a steady thrum of distorted chords. It's actually a pretty song, and it grows nicely as the Reids layer in more and more guitar parts.


Back in the day, I always liked William's vocals more than Jim's, mainly because William's voice seems so easy-going. These days, I realize it's because his almost spoke vocal style suits the more dirgey tunes better than Jim's straight-forward voice.


And then the whole album ends with About You, another quiet tune, as if the Reids has worn themselves out with the furious playing that fills the record up to April Skies. The guitars are acoustic here, the only time on the record, and Jim croons about rain (a recurring theme on this record) and loss as they pick and strum their acoustics. I think it is an appropriate end to the record, almost matching the slow pace of Darklands (which, in fact, would be the next track i heard, as i fast forwarded to the end and then flipped the tape over).

And there you have it. Darklands is like an old friend -- it is there for me when i need it. I can put Darklands on, and the world seems a little less terrible. For that, i owe the Reid brothers big time, and i followed the band for years because of this album.


For a record that feels so rainy and well ... dark, Darklands makes me happy. As many times as I've listened to it over the years, to this day when I hear the first twang of the title track, I feel a lift in my mood and a smile on my face. I come back to this album fairly often for this reason and like PostLibyan, I feel I owe the Reid brothers a debt of gratitude.


I think that this is probably their classic record. The guitar work is great, and the songs are, for the most part, catchy and poppy. It is not as massively distorted as Psychocandy, which quite frankly had so much feedback that it turns off a lot of people. And Darklands is more organic sounding that Automatic, their next album, which to me always came across as sterile. I think this is the perfect place to begin digging into the JAMC's rather massive catalog. Just remember to fake that smile....

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


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