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The Jesus & Mary Chain
Damage And Joy Julian Marszalek , March 22nd, 2017 22:48

Rewind to April 2006 and Jim Reid – ably backed by ex-Lush bassist Phil King on guitar, bassist Mark Crozer and erstwhile Ride drummer Loz Colbert – is playing the snug environs of the Half Moon in Putney, southwest London. Peering over his mic, Reid surveys the modest venue and sighs.

“Fuckin’ hell,” he says. “If William was with us we’d be headlining the fuckin’ Hammersmith Odeon up the road.”

It’s funny how things turn out. Just over a year to the day later, and the same line-up, this time with guitarist William Reid on board, are headlining Coachella, and with the added boost of actress Scarlett Johansson joining them on vocals for ‘Just Like Honey’.

It’s a tale worth considering, specifucally those wilderness years between The Jesus And Mary Chain’s very public implosion at L.A.’s House of Blues in 1998 and their eventual return nine years later. It’s not as if the estranged Reid brothers sat around doing nothing. Indeed, what with Jim forming Freeheat with former Mary Chain bandmates Ben Lurie and Nick Sanderson, and ex-Gun Club bassist Romi Mori, and William writing and performing as Lazycame, followed by the two brothers writing and recoding for younger sister Linda’s Sister Vanilla project, the Reids appeared to be as industrious as they ever were. The problem was – and as evidenced by the scale of the venues the younger Reid was playing in the middle of the last decade – not many people were listening.

Yet despite the material being up to snuff from a songwriting point of view, there remained the feeling that something crucial was missing, and the absent element was the simultaneous participation of the Brothers Reid. And this probably goes some way to explaining why half of Damage And Joy, the seventh full-length album by The Jesus And Mary Chain has already appeared in one form or another. So is this a cause for feeling cheated? Not really. As countered by Jim Reid within The Quietus’ own pixelated pages, these versions are viewed by their creators as curios and demos that they didn’t want lost. And besides, how many of you were listening the first time round?

The first thing to note is that bizarrely, despite this album coming out 19 years after the unfairly maligned Munki, Damage And Joy sounds exactly the way you’d expect the follow-up to its predecessor to sound. All things considered, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The Mary Chain’s songwriting MO has always remained the same – it’s the production that gets tweaked with each record and so it is that this album comes with the sheen of squelching analogue sweeps, studio jiggery-pokery and live playing.

Take, for example, ‘All Things Pass’ (nee ‘All Things Must Pass)’ which jettisons the straight-ahead rock of the original (and, sadly, its hilariously off-kilter bum note) to turn it into something that wouldn’t sound altogether out of place on their Automatic album. Likewise ‘Amputation’ which morphs from its original form as ‘Dead End Kids’ into a leaner and more muscular beast that sounds like, yes, The Jesus And Mary Chain 30-plus years on from their seismic debut.

The placing of Killing Joke bassist and producer of note, Youth, in the production hotseat has been the smart move. With the Reid’s relationship still fractious at best, Youth’s ability to keep the pair productive and happy has yielded largely positive results and there’s also a uniformity to be found in material that has been drawn from almost two decades of existence.

Broadly speaking, Damage And Joy falls into two camps – the electro rockers and the less-than-electro ballads, with the latter category heavy on duets. Here we find Isobel Campbell (‘The Two Of Us’ and ‘Song For A Secret’), Linda Fox (‘Los Feliz (Blues And Greens) and ‘Can’t Stop The Rock’), Bernadette Denning (‘Always Sad’) and Sky Ferreira (‘Black And Blues’) joining Reid minor and you can’t help thinking that perhaps The Jesus And Mary Chain are hedging their bets or relying on props.

Elsewhere, William is as gloriously tasteless as ever as he boasts, “I killed Kurt Cobain/I put the shot right through his brain” on the utterly daft ‘Simian Split’ though there’s a reality check to be found on ‘Facing Up To The Facts’ – a track which has the audacity to blend ‘Sidewalking’ with ‘Her Way Of Praying’ – when Jim sings “I hate my brother and he hates me.”

Ultimately, Damage And Joy is a consolidation rather than a great leap forward. You won’t find anything as demented as say, ‘I Hate Rock’n’Roll’, that great vomit splash of bile and hatred that they could still spew up late in the day, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This is a cautious yet dignified return that allows the Reids and their associates to spend even more time together than they’d have expected to create something positive rather than engaging in an orgy of self-destruction. And, like this album and for now, that’s a good thing. It’s what happens next that will really count.