New Jesus And Mary Chain Sounds Better Than Ever

I guess sometimes you really can go home again.

As we reported in December, the alt-rock pioneers Jesus And Mary Chain are releasing their first album in 18 years on March 24, and judging from a couple of pre-released tracks, it sounds like they never left, they sound as good as they ever did if not better. Sometimes a 20-year break is the best thing that can happen to a band. It sure worked wonders for Steely Dan.

The Jesus And Mary Chain really shook things up in 1984, a year when music really needed shaking up, with their crazy mix of atonal guitar noise and a bubblegum pop sensibility. If you play their first hit “Upside Down” – a feedback-drenched pounder – at full volume, it will clear your home of all flying and crawling insects, along with any larger creatures who value their sense of hearing. It is one wild-ass track.

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The sonic noise was essentially a gimmick for the band in their early days. In concert they would sometimes stand with their back to the audience and play noise for 20 minutes, inciting riots and other British expressions of discontent. But at their heart they were a band who squeezed some great sounds out of their guitars in the service of some well-written Pop songs.

My favorite early JAMC track has to be “Just Like Honey”, with its “Be My Baby” opening beats and muddy sound throughout conjuring the ghost of Phil Spector, but also rocking the chiming guitar interplay that would become the band’s sonic signature. The band would fall out of favor by the 1990s, which was a shame because they were bringing great new treatments to their expert pop sensibilities, like on 1994’s “Sometimes Always”.

Judging from the first couple of tracks, the band’s new album Damage And Joy promises to gather the best of JAMC’s strengths into one place. The great songwriting and great guitar sounds are still there, but in a more reflective and mature package without the excessive noise. “Amputation” sure sounds like a mid-life reflection on the Rock & Roll lifestyle:

Fucked up girls like drugged up guys
That won’t keep him warm at night
It’s just like a grape in a bottle
It’s wine today but piss tomorrow
I don’t know, I guess that we’re all through

And “Always Sad” sounds like an instant classic to me, a happy song with some great chord changes that reminds me a little bit of Wilco’s exuberant “Heavy Metal Drummer”. I think this is a great place for The Jesus And Mary Chain to be in 2017, and maybe this album will finally bring the band some of the respect they’ve deserved all these years.

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