The Jesus and Mary Chain – Psychocandy

Calxie #3. Rated R: Album with the most strangely erotic overtones. Nominee 2 of 4

Until 1964, feedback was pretty much universally perceived as an obstacle and not a tool. Then, as usual, those pesky Beatles used it and everyone wanted to do it. The resulting buzz-saw grind heard at the start of ‘I Feel Fine’ was something fairly innocuous; no one saw what that sound would grow into. It was techniques like that that helped make records as breathtaking as Sonic Youth’s ‘Daydream Nation’ and as intolerable as Lou Reed’s ‘Metal Machine Music’, but The Jesus and Mary Chain used it in a very different way to everyone before and, for the most part, since. They wrote loveable guitar pop songs, influenced by The Beach Boys and The Velvet Underground’s poppier moments, but they were cloaked in a wash of howls and crashes from the amps. In its most violent moments, it very much sounds like riding a motorbike through a steel mill while a radio plays loud in the background to compete with the noise. While this may sound like an unnecessary and uninteresting novelty, this wash of aural mess makes a great pop record even better, at least, in this case it does. It swarms around you like a plague of locusts, but the melodies are usually so sweet and infectious you can’t help but get drawn in and eventually you come to love the dissonance.

Weirdly enough, they cite one of their main influences to be 60’s girl group The Shangri-Las (JMC guitarist William Reid once said “We all love The Shangri-Las, and one day we’re going to make Shangri-Las records”) which could explain a lot since these songs are often only a stone’s throw away from the likes of ‘Leader of the Pack’ with tired, semi-conscious vocals. Drummer Bobby Gillespie (also known as “that horse-tranquillized singer from Primal Scream” to his friends) played in a basic “Level One” style and Douglas Hart’s bass only had two strings, claiming “that’s the two I use”: this isn’t under-preparation or lack of effort, it’s economy. It’s all about stripping pop to its bare elements and lightly scribbling over it. As sober as the songs seem, drugs were a clear influence. Their early gigs were driven by amphetamines, during which they would play with their backs to the audience, refusing to speak to them, before walking off after only twenty minutes.

I sometimes regret making up this category since I’m about as awkward and introverted as they come (especially when it comes to talking about sex), but nonetheless, here I go anyway, in as prude a way I can muster. This record is in this category because it’s got just the right balance of sweetness and thrills. The whole sound of it recalls stumbling thoroughly drunk into a flat with a significant other, the long-gone sound of a deafening club still ringing in both your ears. If this isn’t the setting for some mind-blowing kind of romantic entanglement I don’t know what is. Even so, it seems nearly every album I pick for this category is never quite right, since some tracks are either too distracting or too threatening (trying to make love during a song like the end of ‘Never Understand’, during which horror movie screams make an inexplicable appearance, sounds like the potential soundbed for a particularly macabre HIV awareness commercial). Still, most of the songs here are ideal for any future fumblings you get yourselves into and it’s a great record regardless and you should damn well own it.

It pretty much spawned an entire movement on its own; before My Bloody Valentine tore down every sonic barrier left and blew the world’s mind out through its nose, they were basically a bad JMC rip-off band. ‘Psychocandy’ also gained fans in unlikely places: indie miserablist misanthrope hero Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields wrote an entire album inspired by it (‘Distortion’, which is also very worthy of your attention, except replace The Shangri-Las with Cole Porter). The band migrated to a clearer sound later on, but this is still a landmark pop record which still has the power to confuse as much now as it ever did.

Key track: The Hardest Walk

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