30 Years Ago: The Jesus and Mary Chain Switch Gears on ‘Darklands’
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Basking in the unanimous critical adulation the Jesus and Mary Chain received for their feedback drenched debut Psychocandy in 1985, the Scottish outfit wouldn’t be faulted for repeating the formula on its follow-up. Instead, they went and did a complete 180 degree turn with Darklands, which came out Aug. 31, 1987.
Rather than a billowing distortion swirling each song in its cocoon, they were more focused on distinct melodies. It definitely took fans and critics by surprise.
“If we ever made the record you’d expect, we’d be finished, you know?” singer Jim Reid told Sky TV that year, lamenting the level of attention paid to the wall of sonic noise – or lack thereof – rather than the actual songs.
“It’d become a burden, you know, that circus freak act of the Mary Chain and the feedback was getting a bit tired, he said. “It’s like everywhere we went, it’s the same old question; ‘Why no feedback?’ It’s like, the reply is obvious. The fact that people sit there and ask you that question is the reason why there’s no feedback. It’s like, why would there be? We’re a rock and roll [band]. Where was the feedback on ‘Johnny B. Goode?’ There wasn’t any.”
Reid, along with his guitarist and singer brother William, who always handled the reins of the band, drew them even tighter in the wake of the departure of drummer Bobby Gillespie, who left to focus on his own act, Primal Scream. Rather than replace him, the incorporated the use of drum machines and handled the programming of them. John Loder stepped back behind the boards, letting William handle bass duties.
The result directs the listener to focus on the lyrics, of which there are plenty to fall in love with on Darklands – and they’re just as dour as the title. Check the melancholy brilliance of the chorus to “Nine Million Rainy Days,” which goes, “As far as I can tell / I’m being dragged from here to hell / And all my time in hell / Is spent with you.”
Moments of healthy reverb remain on songs like “Fall” and “Down on Me,” but it’s less pronounced and more pop-centric, even starkly on the title track and “Cherry Came Too.” for example.
“The feedback thing tends to throw a shadow over the songwriting, which we feel is our strongest point,” William correctly told Sky TV.
“We are first and foremost a pop group,” Jim said in 1987. “That’s what we want to be. That’s what we are.”
Years later, it’s clear that as separate as Psychocandy and Darklands might be sound-wise, they both have the same sense of melody at their core. Some bands, like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club or Crocodiles, used the former as a blueprint for their own group. Other preferred the immediacy of Darklands. The Reid brothers prefer both.
“A lot of people were confused by Darklands because it didn’t have the screeching feedback, but that one has also seemed to stand the test of time.” Jim Reid said in 2015 as they were on a tour playing its predecessor in full. “When we started the Psychocandy tour it wasn’t too long before people said: ‘Do Darklands.’ We like it just as much. Maybe we’ll do that next?”
That didn’t happen. After the tour, their next project became 2017’s Damage and Joy, their first studio album since 1998’s Munki.
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