Album Review: “Glasgow Eyes” by The Jesus and Mary Chain

I would be remiss if I didn’t review Glasgow Eyes by The Jesus and Mary Chain, just given that they’re one of my all-time favorite bands. I’d heard that this album was a slightly different sound than their other work, so I’ve been looking forward to checking it out.

My immediate impression is that, while at its heart you can tell it’s a Mary Chain album, their sound has crystalized. And not in a, “we’ve been doing this for 40 years so fuck off” sort of way, although you get that vibe, too. No, crystalized as in, you can hear the distortion clearly at the same time it blows out your speakers. This album showcases the Mary Chain experimenting with synths and electronics, with a more refined production.

This is particularly obvious on “Venal,” where the synths are immediately obvious without being heavy handed. I liked the line “addicted to love so we can fuck on the table.” It reminded me of the lyric from “April Skies”: “making love on the edge of a knife.” (Guess the band have graduated to something rougher?) The drum beats here are heavy on the bridge, and there’s a faster beat than other Mary Chain songs. But it works. They evolved without making it jarring.

The synths elsewhere are delicate, as on “American Born.” The song features more of a wobbly reverb and a slinky, almost elastic beat. The vocals are distorted (classic Mary Chain), but you can make out their description of what it means to be American. The lyrics remind me of “New York City.”

Other standouts on the album are “Mediterranean X Film” and “Hey Lou Reed.” The first song is unique in that it has spoken word lyrics at the beginning, rather than singing. Its synths are beepy, like in “American Born,” but the vocals are produced really nicely. Meanwhile, “Hey Lou Reed” is a perfect shoutout to the godfather of shoegaze. The vocals here are drowned out by synths, which are in turn drowned out by reverb and heavy drums.

My rating? 4 stars out of 5.

New Music Recs: “jamcod” by The Jesus and Mary Chain

Well, if any band is going to get me back into blogging, it’s definitely the Mary Chain. I actually didn’t even know that they had released this song until my roommate told me; I joked that I would have to turn in my stan card.

Jokes and self-deprecation aside, listening to the song is like putting on a favorite pair of jeans: they fit perfectly and you know right away that you love them. The song is a searing combination of all the best Mary Chain songs: “Automatic,” “Blues from a Gun,” even some sneaky “Sometimes Always” cameos appear in the guitar riffs. And Jim Reid doesn’t sound like he’s aged at all. His voice, as ever, fits the existential, gazing-from-the-void lyrics that are typical of the Mary Chain: “There must be an answer/To the question I don’t know.” They turn these parts into something familiar, sure, but also thrillingly new. Who knew that they’d hop on the all-lowercase-song-title bandwagon? Not me, that’s for sure. It’s an intriguing preview of their upcoming album Glasgow Eyes.

Covers Corner: “Surfin’ USA” by The Jesus and Mary Chain

It’s that time of year again! Warmer weather has arrived, and with it, my summertime songs. We return to my Covers Corner feature with the version of “Surfin’ USA” that The Jesus and Mary Chain did back in 1987.

It’s classic Mary Chain, with blistering guitar and Jim Reid’s rough voice. The combo is an excellent continuation of the sound they established with their debut Psychocandy: pop music that’s layered thickly with a fuzz of feedback echoing the Kinks. Their version also sets up an intriguing contrast. A band from Scotland is singing about “Californ-i-a” and “waxing down our surfboards/can’t wait ’till June.” It’s not funny, exactly, but I love it just the same. The cover has a rebellious vibe. When Jim Reid sings, “tell the teacher we’re surfin’,” I picture a group of kids skipping class to head to the beach.

Meanwhile, the Beach Boys’ version is squeaky-clean a capella. You immediately want to jump on a surfboard yourself, or at least hang out on the sand with a radio playing. The best part, in my opinion, is towards the end with the high, ever-so-slightly nasal “yeah, everybody’s gone surfin‘” onto the fadeout. It’s youthful and sweet. The kids in this song aren’t skipping class; they’re waiting until the weekend or until the summer surf season begins.

Spend some time in the sun by listening below:

Covers Corner: “On the Wall” by Gospel Gossip

If you’ve spent any length of time on this blog, you know that my favorite band is The Jesus and Mary Chain. I’ve been to three of their concerts and have most of the songs on Darklands memorized. Their debut, Psychocandy, set the tone, but it’s Darklands that’s my favorite of their albums.

Today we’re talking about a cover of a song from that album, “On the Wall.” “Just Like Honey” is the Chain’s best-known song and consequently the most covered, so this one is a unique find. The cover is by Gospel Gossip, a band from Minneapolis that, as far as I can tell, hasn’t released anything new since 2014. Their sound is fitting for a Jesus and Mary Chain cover: loud and somewhat dissonant shoegaze that holds a kernel of pop in the mix.

The Mary Chain version of “On the Wall” is actually a departure from their usual sound: it’s quick and layered with a drum machine. (Darklands experiments with drum machines a lot.) The typically angsty tone of Jim Reid’s voice, combined with their typically angsty lyrics, gets lost in the almost perky sound. The guitar here is lovely, but it’s lighter, smoother, and overall more positive than the slower and more meditative atmosphere of the rest of Darklands: see “Deep One Perfect Morning.”

In contrast, the Gospel Gossip version sounds almost more like a Mary Chain song than the original version does. It is much slower and more atmospheric, with a trembling guitar line under the soft vocals. That makes the lyrics stand out even more. I find the contrast between the female singer and the line “These make me taste/Like a man” interesting. The drum line here doesn’t come from a machine. It feels almost like a heartbeat. At the end of the song, with the line “I’m like a clock,” the drumbeat starts to sound like a clock ticking. It’s an excellent, subtle touch. Then it builds into “I’m like a clock on the wall” and the crescendo is such an excellent payoff. Listen below:

How The Jesus and Mary Chain Saved My Life

I discovered The Jesus and Mary Chain almost exactly three years ago – and have been obsessed with them ever since – so I figured it was appropriate to talk about why!

I’d been listening to Brakesbrakesbrakes for about two years when I heard “Sometimes Always” off their album Give Blood. I loved that song and listened to it over and over without even realizing it was a JAMC cover. Digging on Pitchfork quickly set me straight – and then I fell into the most wonderful black hole of devouring everything Mary Chain I could get my hands on: Obscure live versions of “Nine Million Rainy Days.” Comparing which was better: Honey’s Dead or Munki? (Honey’s Dead gets my vote.)

Lyrically, the Mary Chain cover a lot of the same things from song to song: you get allusions to “honey” and “cherries,” and Jim talks about death, hell, and endless dark and rainy days. No wonder they helped kick off the shoegaze genre.

Despite all that darkness, the lyrics are soaked in often bright and super-saturated Wall of Sound-type guitar washes. The best illustration of the Mary Chain’s contrasts is their cover of the Temptations’ “My Girl.” The lyrics are sunny, yet Jim sings like his cat is dying.

I like all of these contrasts, but it was “Just Like Honey” that made me fall in love with the band. It was one of life’s perfect flukes: I discovered them almost by accident, yet they came along at just the right moment. I was going through a rough transition point in my life: I wasn’t sure if I should move to a new place or stay where I was and continue being unhappy. But when I put on “Just Like Honey,” it felt like a confirmation that I was headed in the right direction. The “Be My Baby” drumbeat, like some kind of hopeful heartbeat, made me feel safe and confident in my choice to leave. Listen to the girl as she takes on half the world indeed.