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Reviews

The Jesus And Mary Chain
Upside Down Julian Marszalek , November 18th, 2010 11:39

As much as it is about timing and fashion, rock’n’roll is built on myths and legends. Who cares that Keith Moon never actually drove a Rolls Royce into a swimming pool on his 21st birthday, that Keith Richards’ blood remained firmly in his body when visiting a clinic in Switzerland to clean up or that the Sex Pistols could actually play? As Maxwell Scott says in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Perhaps so but Upside Down… does a more than an admirable job in smashing up a few important myths surrounding the Jesus and Mary Chain and the much-maligned decade that was the 1980s. Principally among these is the notion touted by a generation born after the aftershock of punk and welcomed into the arms of Britpop that the Stone Roses’ debut album represents the high water mark of that period and some kind of Year Zero.

1985 proved to be a watershed year and as riots erupted up and down the country, the Jesus and Mary Chain’s explosive debut, Psychocandy, inadvertently soundtracked the chaos that was engulfing it. Not that the Mary Chain – or at least manager Alan McGee, so obviously in thrall to Malcolm McLaren – were oblivious to creating a mythology around them. The riot at the band’s infamous North London Polytechnic gig was apparently the sound of pop music being smashed up, and such bullshit culminated in the terrifying Electric Ballroom concert several months later that attracted the unwanted attention of seriously demented football hooligans looking for trouble regardless of the musical agenda.

But the brilliance of Psychocandy – here represented by ‘You Trip Me Up’, ‘Never Understand’ and ‘The Hardest Walk’ amongt others – was in fusing a pop sensibility with the power if the Velvet Underground in full flight and any perceptions of the band’s inability to play were kicked firmly into touch. Sugar flavoured and sweet to the palette, these songs were then dipped in a lysergic coating to create an almost confusing effect that straddled the most polar of pop extremes.

The other myth steamrollered by this generous 44-track compilation is that the Jesus and Mary Chain became a spent force after the release of their debut. Indeed, to examine the evidence to the contrary is to discover a treasure trove of musical delights. As Jim Reid told The Quietus two years ago, the Jesus and Mary Chain were in no mood to repeat themselves: “We’d done Psychocandy and all that anybody wanted us to do was Psychocandy 2 and we reacted against that.” Darklands' ‘April Skies’ and ‘Happy When It Rains’ were bona fide hit singles, while the magisterial ‘Sidewalking’ revealed hip-hop influences (the drum sample came from Roxanne Shante and Stetsasonic were a turntable staple chez the Reids) that proved that there had always been a dance element to their music long before any indie-dance chancer ran with the concept as they chased the bandwagon breathlessly down the street to the nearest rave.

So while 1989’s Automatic album tends to get short thrift its pearls included ‘Blues From A Gun’ and ‘Head On’ – later covered by Pixies – and the Mary Chain’s beatbox experiments – as displayed by ‘Reverence’ and ‘Far Out And Gone’ - saw them convincingly change direction on Honey’s Dead while still firing white-hot blasts of rock’n’roll in the shape of ‘Rollercoaster’. Though Stoned And Dethroned failed to set the world on fire and the under-rated Munki found itself sidelined in favour of another pair of McGee-sanctioned brothers, Upside Down… offers choice morsels in the form of b-sides (‘Happy Place’, ‘Psychocandy’), rarities (’45 RPM’) and new – yes, new – material (see ‘All Things Must Pass’) that does much to belie the Reid brothers’ reputation as a pair of wastrels to lazy to re-string a semi-acoustic guitar.

Splendidly mastered to boost the fuzz that fizzes throughout the Jesus and Mary Chain’s three chord gems, Upside Down… is a great introduction for anyone seeking an alternative to received wisdom erroneously taken as fact, as well as a timely reminder of Reidian greatness for any lapsed apostles.

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