The Jesus And Mary Chain 21 Singles
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Volumes have already been written about the historical significance of the Jesus and Mary Chain. The group’s landmark debut, aptly titled Psychocandy, was the archetype for noise-pop, an album that transformed the use of distortion in indie rock with its screeching abrasion, yet managed to feature some of the catchiest melodies of the 80s. This unique blend of challenging noise and melodic pop was later adapted by hundreds of bands, with innovative groups such as My Bloody Valentine among the forerunners. Unlike the majority of its followers, though, the Jesus and Mary Chain was primarily a singles band. However groundbreaking Psychocandy was, several not-so-great songs marred the album, undermining the band’s brilliance. The Jesus and Mary Chain’s formula was not infallible; past the album’s highlights, the overwhelming use of distortion occasionally grew tiring, to the point that it seemed the same song was being played on repeat. While none of the group’s later work saw too great a departure from its original style, a look at only the bands’s singles reveals its repertoire to be more exciting than that of almost any other band within the same genre. 21 Singles presents the band at its absolute best, unhampered by repetition and unaffected by a lack of significant development because of the sheer genius of its best songs. The collection, organized chronologically, begins with The Jesus and Mary Chain’s quintessential debut single, “Upside Down”. Like all of the group’s best songs, “Upside Down” has more energy than most other bands could ever hope to produce, with wailing feedback and thumping drums marvelously accompanying Reid’s triumphant vocals as he proclaims tough-guy phrases like “Feels like I’m going mad/ best friend I’ve ever had”. Psychocandy’s singles continue in very much the same vein as “Upside Down”, especially with the brutal assault of “Never Understand”. “You Trip Me Up”, “Just Like Honey”, and “Some Candy Talking” are calmer, but use just as much distortion to hide their sweet pop nature. These first five songs are all classics, compared either to the rest of the collection or to virtually any other singles released during the mid-80s. The Jesus and Mary Chain’s follow-up to Psychocandy, Darklands, is represented excellently by its three lively singles, “April Skies”, “Happy When It Rains”, and the title track. On these, the group stripped away excess feedback and allowed for a more conventional approach to rock’n’roll. The effect of these songs’ different treatment is equally powerful, although the weaker melodies prevent the singles from attaining the same heights of those from Psychocandy. “Sidewalking” and “Blues from a Gun” are the compilation’s heaviest tracks, revealing for the first time a traditional hard rock side to the band. Here, Reid delivers some of his most convincing vocals. At least, one would think so before hearing “Head On”. Easily the highlight of the band’s career, “Head On” characterizes most of what great indie rock is supposed to be, donating four minutes of complete bliss to the collection. Incredibly riveting, the song features an utterly inspiring chorus (“Makes you wanna feel/ makes you wanna try/ makes you wanna blow the stars from the sky”) delivered with all the band’s visceral emotion. The music perfectly suits the lyrics, with the same breadth of passion present in the guitars as in Reid’s vocals. The four Honey’s Dead singles embrace much of the early 90s British music scene, using more danceable beats to good effect. The controversial “Reverence” (“I wanna die just like Jesus Christ”) juxtaposes hard-rock riffing with a drum machine to create a new sound for the band, a new way to boast both their power and their catchiness. The album’s other singles are very good as well, but unfortunately, after Honey’s Dead, there is a slight dip in quality. Stoned and Dethroned gives us two of the band’s softer numbers, the very radio-friendly “Sometimes Always”, and the simple “Come On”. Munki, the band’s final album, re-introduces a sound that had been absent since Automatic with the hard-hitting “Cracking Up” and even adds to this style with “I Love Rock’N’Roll”, which, very surprisingly, features horns. It is clear by this point that the Reids have lost some of their ability to write exceptional melodies, but these singles are still pretty good. Psychocandy may have been the Jesus and Mary Chain’s classic, but 21 Singles is undoubtedly the place to start with the band. As any singles compilation should, the collection highlights what made the Jesus and Mary Chain the fabulous band it was, capturing the best moments throughout its career without ever dwelling on them so that they become dull. In doing so, 21 Singles proves itself to be both the perfect introduction to the band and the group’s most listenable effort.