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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Album review: Jesus and Mary Chain’s latest offers minimum damage but maximum joy

Ever since the release of their cultish, critically revered debut Psychocandy, in 1985, Scottish noise-mongers The Jesus and Mary Chain have traded on making irreverence an art-form – an impertinent essence distilled is a haze of cigarette smoke, sunglasses and black and white photography.
The Jesus and Mary Chain perform in Glasgow, Scotland, last month during the BBC Radio 6 Music Festival. Photo by Ross Gilmore / Redferns
The Jesus and Mary Chain perform in Glasgow, Scotland, last month during the BBC Radio 6 Music Festival. Photo by Ross Gilmore / Redferns

Damage and Joy

The Jesus and Mary Chain

(ADA/Warner)

Four stars

Ever since the release of their cultish, critically revered debut album Psychocandy in 1985, Scottish noisemongers The Jesus and Mary Chain have traded on making irreverence an art form.

Theirs is an impertinent essence, distilled in a haze of cigarette smoke, sunglasses and black-and-white photography.

It is easy to detect the same flippant poise in Damage and Joy, the first new album in 19 years from the band, who are still spearheaded by brothers Jim and William Reid.

“I’m a rock ’n’ roll amputation,” declares Reed Junior on stomping garage-vamp opener Amputation. There’s a hint of Big Star-style college rock to the chiming major chords that propel Always Sad’s unrequited young lover. Previously used on the soundtrack to TV superhero drama Heroes in 2008, All Things Pass is stadium-sized swagger garbed seductively in club-sized chic.

Throughout, the production, by Youth, is cooly retro and bitingly in-your-face – fuzz-soaked guitars and clashing cymbals turned to 11. Indeed, for a band so soaked in mythology and kudos, it is amazing how dumb – and fun – they sound in 2017.

The Two of Us positively thrums with longing, adolescent hormones. Presidici (Et Chapaquiditch) is cheap, catchy pop-punk of the kind on which lesser bands have built entire careers.

There are just two moods and modes at play: as well as pubescent, swot-rock, we get a smattering of Mary Chain’s patented brand of feedback- snarled ballads.

Song for a Secret sounds like the Reid brothers doing their darnedest to rip off Pscyho- candy’s breakout moment, Just Like Honey. “I once shone, but now I’m old,” Reid tellingly counters on War and Peace, an angelic, reverb-strewn slow-burner that otherwise sounds like an out-take from the band’s seminal 1980s sessions.

The two-decade gap is entirely imperceptible, not least because seven of Damage and Joy’s 14 tracks have previously appeared in different forms – a result of an eight-year hiatus.

The Mary Chain were always the vision of the warring Reid brothers. But fraternal relations had disintegrated to such a degree by the time they were recording sixth album Munki in 1998 that they refused to share a studio. The band split a year later.

Neither of them found much solo success, and the hatchet was quietly buried in 2007 for a headline gig at Coachella.

Plans for a new album were announced a year later, but it took a decade of work – or negotiation – to come up with Damage and Joy.

If the creation was laboured, there is no sign of it. That trademark throwaway irreverence is embraced like a warm, fuzz-guitar blanket of sound.

Damage and Joy is both a remarkable return to form – and an unremarkable continuation of exactly what we expect from the Jesus and Mary Chain.

rgarratt@thenational.ae