I think for me The Jesus And Mary Chain have always been more than just their songs. In many ways, although revered and critically acclaimed in many circles, they have had more of an influence and been more of an inspiration than most give them credit for. When they initially broke through their sound, such a magnificent mixture of feral guitar and retro harmonies, was unleashed on a largely unsuspecting public to great effect. They may have had their own influences to help them arrive at the sound they did but they were real pioneers and truly unique at the time.
Just like the band's cited influences that went before them, especially The Velvet Underground, The Jesus And Mary Chain have helped shape the musical landscape for a generation. It is not unjustified to say that the early work of the Mary Chain was both seminal and ground breaking. 'Psychocandy' is a work of genius and certainly one of the greatest debut albums of all time. What Jim and William Reid and Bobby Gillespie brought was raw, unfettered, wild and extremely passionate. They were utterly alone in their sound at the time (A time when Jennifer Rush topped the charts with 'The Power Of Love) and utterly convincing in their belief and performance.
Thirty plus years on from that initial excitement, and some nineteen years since their last studio album, there is still a genuine buzz and animated expectation around both the band and the new album. 'Damage And Joy', the Mary Chains latest album is a full fourteen tracks and fifty three minutes long; twice as long as many of their early gigs! It's true that some of the songs are not entirely new, but, it is nonetheless a real joy to see them return, evidently buoyed by their live performances since their reunion.
If you are still expecting razor wire and silk, a musical brutalism, ear splitting feedback or a tempestuous anger from their latest release then the band's new record may come as a disappointment. However, if the return of The Jesus And Mary Chain in any shape or form comes as something of a minor miracle given their well-documented sibling intolerance then 'Damage & Joy' is worth more than casual consideration. Don't get me wrong there are still vivid moments that recall the energy of those early days and there is still an underlying snarly, "I could care less", attitude but the band have mellowed and the rest of the world has caught up. Age and reconciliation have brought forbearance and harmony to the new record but whatever its guise it could never be anything other than a Mary Chain release; it has that glorious signature sound embedded in it.
The new Jesus And Mary Chain album starts in just the right place, starts where before you could only imagine that they'd pick up. The opening squal that heralds the start of the first single taken from the album, 'Amputation', feels very satisfying, like a relief that they're back and that they've got it right. William Reid's fuzzy guitar riffs shred through the score as Jim's vocal harmonies soar above. Lyrically too it's an opening line that serves to make its point, "Trying to win your interest back, but you ain't havin' none of that. Feel just like a ship in a bottle, kiss today but f##k tomorrow." Track two, 'War On Peace', initially shifts the mood with a restrained tone and mournful tenderness but it's a song of two halves. Incapable of maintaining a pedestrian pace throughout the band step on the throttle to deliver a breakneck ending that finally and fantastically implodes on itself. 'Mood Rider' takes a similar route. A steady start and subdued reserve hold off, temporarily, the underlying ferocity and pent up tension as the songs builds and breaks out into its full magnificence.
'Facing Up To The Facts', tongue in cheek or not, addresses some of the issues of the past as well as the bands current insecurities with Jim Reid himself admitting that making this record in his fifties is "a minor miracle". "I hate my brother and he hates me, that's the way it's supposed to be" tells it as it is, or certainly was. 'You know there's no safety net, you know this is all we get?" Jim exclaims as the whirring cacophony swirls menacingly below.
'Damage And Joy' also features six tracks with a female guest vocal. Isobel Campbell steps up to the mic on 'Song For A Secret' and 'The Two Of Us'. Campbell's angelic vocals sit brilliantly in the arrangements, acting as a foil to the jangle of guitars and Reid's measured swagger. Both songs feel like an important departure for the band, like they're Ok with change and that they don't have to conform to some formulaic idea of what The Jesus And Mary Chain should be. This is closer to Jenny And Johnny than 'Never Understand' and it sounds great.
Second single, 'Always Sad', couples the bothers Reid with Bernadette Denning to deliver up a classic Mary Chain track whichever way you look at it. Jim's world weary drawl heads up Denning's clear and crisp intonations in a wonderful duet. Of all the pairings on the album this one shines out partly because of the quality of the song but also because of the blend. There's something quite special that's been allowed to evolve here, nothing sounds contrived or forced. The production too, undertaken in the most part by Youth, feels free and unburdened.
'Black And Blues' broadens the Scots centric net to include Sky Ferreira on vocals. Her laid back lilt is a good fit with Jim's voice as well as William's swath of undulating guitar chords. The boy's younger sister, Linda (Sister Vanilla), who also appeared on the band's last album 'Munki', guests on the epic 'Los Feliz (Blues And Greens)' as well as the close out track 'You Can't Stop The Rock'. The fitting finale sounds like the conclusion of the album. There's almost a relief, a near audible sigh and smile. It's done, it's finished, we did it, you can have it.
Nineteen years is a long wait by anyone's measure but the return of The Jesus And Mary Chain was never going to quick, simple or easy. There had been some criticism of the Mary Chain's output as the millennium approached but 'Damage And Joy' sounds as if it may herald more than just a band/album reunion that's not just a financial hit. It's not a perfect album by any stretch, there are some questionable inclusions ('Simian Split') but it is nonetheless a very welcome return. Thirty years on from their first handful of releases the sound of The Jesus And Mary Chain sees a convergence where they no longer have their backs to the audience but where they are facing forward for the first time in two decades.