For no apparent reason, the Jesus and Mary Chain have announced their first tour dates since their reunion in 2007. Actually, there are a couple of apparent reasons:
2. Recent re-issue of their entire back catalog.
For fans of the JAMC, this comes as news. It’s not exciting news. It’s not bad news. It’s simply news. Seeing as we’re only a couple of years away from the 20th anniversary of their last good album (1994’s Honey’s Dead), it makes one wonder how much longer a band like this, even as influential as they are, can continue to coast down this slope of goodwill before coming to a complete stop. It also makes one wonder whether or not it’s worth throwing down perfectly good cash money to watch two aging gentlemen replay a back catalog that suddenly nose dives at Stoned and Dethroned, never to recover again. No mention yet as to whether this will lead the Reid brothers back into the studio, but given what the last two albums did to their legacy, even diehard fans have to be hoping that it Does Not.
Then there’s the fact that your idols, like 99% of the rest of humanity, are failing to age gracefully. Jim Reid seems to be holding up well:
but William Reid seems to be well on his way toward morphing into Buzz from the Melvins:
[Compare and contrast]
It’s not as if it’s impossible to stay in shape well into (and past) your 40s. Take a look at Iggy Pop:
Sure, he’s got a face only that only a barren adoptive mother could love, but look at the muscle tone! Thirty years after that man’s death, his grave will hold nothing but a skull attached to 40 lbs of beef jerky. And that’s assuming he’ll die. Frankly, he looks like he’d just beat the shit out of the Grim Reaper and go on to compose a concept album about the whole experience, possibly collaborating with Diamanda Galas or Brian Eno or fucking Bright Eyes for that matter. Anything to confound the expectations of his fans.
The Jesus and Mary Chain don’t need to do this, fiscal reasons aside. There’s nothing to be gained artistically, and if they’re looking for a cost effective solution, they could just use animatronic dummies and Hope Sandoval, thus saving themselves the trouble of letting out William’s leather pants and venturing out into the unfriendly daylight of music festivals. A few headliner spots will pay the bills, but the legacy is long gone and compulsive touring isn’t going to change that.
Then there’s the redundancy problem. There are several bands out there right now doing a better Jesus and Mary Chain than the Chain themselves have done in close to twenty years. Why go head-to-head with your unruly offspring who are doing your legacy proud while simultaneously steamrolling your last two decade’s worth of “contributions” to the pantheon of recorded, feedback-heavy music? There’s nothing to gain here but the chance to see what the oft-used but rarely experienced term “chagrined” means.
Before we take a look/listen to the sonic forces of destruction that have taken the Chain’s game to the next level, here’s a couple of tracks to remind everyone of just how devastatingly good they were. Here’s one taken from their debut, 1985’s Psychocandy:
Here’s a b-side in which they turn a George Thorogood track into something somehow slightly more menacing and infinitely more listenable:
And here’s the last good track they cranked out, from 1998’s otherwise skippable Munki:
AND NOW, SIX BANDS THAT MAKE THE JAMC’S CURRENT ZOMBIFIED EXISTENCE REDUNDANT
We’ll start off with the most obvious heirs to the Chain’s distorted, leather-clad throne:
A Place to Bury Strangers
Known as the “loudest band in New York City,” (which doubtless makes them The Loudest Band in the World Not Named the Boredoms) A Place to Bury Strangers have grabbed ahold of JAMC’s legacy with both hands, crafting a Wall of Sound worth of Spector himself, if Spector had been into skull-splitting waves of feedback and basslines so distorted they threaten to weaken any lode-bearing structures within the entire metropolitan area (particularly threatening to New Jersey, as most structures have been crafted out of substandard material, thanks to the tireless efforts of skimming mob underbosses and a generally uninvolved crew of union construction workers).
Built on the back of lead Stranger Oliver Ackermann’s Death by Audio effects pedals, A Place to Bury Stranger’s music doesn’t simply beg to played loud: it downright demands it in a calm but serious tone that lets you know immediately it is Not to Be Fucked With. With a few albums and EPs under their belt, APTBS show no sign of slowing down, dialing back the volume or offering to pay for structural damage/ruptured eardrums.
San Diego’s Crocodiles may not be as sonically aggressive as A Place to Bury Strangers but they have JAMC’s blend of Velvet Underground-noise-meets-hummable-hooks song structure down cold. Not only that, but they’ve got twice the sexual/animal magnetism live (possibly more than that, given the declining ROI of the JAMC experience). While the Chain were content to stare at their shoes or the drummer or the amps, the Crocodiles give the audience something to look at as well as listen to, with charismatic frontman Brandon Welchez strutting, swaggering and sweating all over the stage. Observe them live below:
With the obvious suspects dealt with, let’s take a look at some of the undercard contenders:
Possibly the only band on this list to challenge A Place to Bury Strangers in terms of sheer sonic destruction, Stellarium hail from the unlikeliest locale ever listed as “Country of Origin” on a shoegaze CD: Singapore. While the JAMC is an obvious influence, their sonic attack also encompasses the expansive aural fuckery of My Bloody Valentine and the overall “hugeness” of seemingly unrelated bands like King Crimson (at their loudest) and Chrome (at their heaviest).
While Vertigo provides concise proof of their membership in the Chain gang, their true power is fully unleashed in longer tracks like the 13-minute Dead Nebula, which sounds like it would take years off your life experienced live.
It starts out as a reverb-laden altrocker before suddenly discovering the gas pedal around the 2:50 mark, steadily accelerating before crashing headlong into 50-car pileup made of white noise, somehow emerging on the other side, still cruising at a breakneck speed, covered in flames. There’s a moment of silence starting at the 8-minute mark (that lasts 90 seconds), at which point the track morphs into an extremely fuzzy breakbeat workout, not entirely unlike the coda to My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, the somewhat more melodic Soon.
A bit of cheat, this one. Ceremony is composed of members of Skywave, Oliver Ackermann’s (A Place to Bury Strangers) former band. While not quite as ear-destroying as APTBS, Ceremony still whip up a furious amount of noise themselves. Breaking Up is pure Chainery, bleak lyrics paired with a blasts of distortion. There’s some very nice dynamic shifting going on, occasionally peeling back the layers of fuzz to reveal singular piercing tones of high-contrast feedback. Supposedly a followup to 2010’s Ceremony is in the works, but nothing can be confirmed. Hopefully so, as Ceremony have staked a solid claim to the feedback-laden future.
Speaking of Texas (and we were, eons ago in the introductory paragraphs: i.e., JAMC is touring, starting with SXSW), Austin’s Ringo Deathstarr have been franchisees of the Jesus and Mary Chain since 2005, not to mention having nailed down one of the most ridiculously cool band names in existence. As is illustrated by Some Kind of Sad, the Deathstarr know their way around the feedback/fuzz/distortion neighborhood, making stops at all things heartbroken or bleakly nihilistic. Also, like their influences, they’ve got a way with buried hooks, the kind that stay in your ear long after the ringing has died out.
Last, but most certainly not least, it’s the Young Boys, the (yes) youngest member of the nu-Chain. Coming from out of nowhere (thanks to the un-Googleability of their name) with Bring ‘Em Down, perhaps the finest impersonation of the Jesus and Mary Chain yet. While some critics might find this sort of appropriation/derivation to be an affront to the betterment of rock and roll or whatever, the fact is that no one else out there sounded this much like the original, leather-clad, un-tanned, crowd-baiting, bleakly beautiful but catastrophically noisy Jesus and Mary Chain of yore for nearly 20 years, least of all the JAMC themselves. For a fan like me, this was a blast of refreshing past, delivered by the future of the genre.
Several months later and the Young Boys have struck again, offering yet another set of brilliant pop tunes carefully hidden under filthy fuzz and cavernous reverb.
So, the question for the Chain faithful is: do you gravitate towards the new bands giving you what you want but can’t get from the source anymore, or do you fall for the Sunk Cost Fallacy and support the latest tour, entertaining the 1% of your mind that still believes that the JAMC will return to glory once again? My money’s on the new guys. But that’s because my heart belongs to the old guys. If I can’t have them the way I want them, then I’m getting my fix elsewhere. This new wave of bands may owe a ton to the Reid brothers, but as a fan who’s purchased (and re-purchased, thank you very much format shifting!) all the albums and several compilations and singles, I don’t think we owe the Reid brothers anything.
[Oh, lord. PIL is cranking out a new album after a 20-year layoff… ]