Album Spotlight: The Jesus and Mary Chain – Psychocandy (1985)

I like noise. I like big-ass vicious noise that makes my head spin. I wanna feel it whipping through me like a f*cking jolt. We’re so dilapidated and crushed by our pathetic existence we need it like a fix.

– Steve Albini, not ACTUALLY talking about the Jesus and Mary Chain’s epochal debut Psychocandy, but he might as well have been.

This is pop for perverts–pomo smarty-pants too prudish and/or alienated to take their pleasure without a touch of pain to remind them that they’re still alive.

– Robert Christgau in re: a different confection of noise and melody, Guided by Voices’ Bee Thousand – coming from the likes of Christgau, I will take this a compliment; and in any case, the man can sometimes turn a phrase.

These quotes communicate something important to understand about this record: it’s pop music, containing some of the finest singles of its or any era; but at times, it will hurt you sonically. As with an incredibly-spicy dish, you must sometimes endure some pain to find the pleasure, but I promise it’s worth it. Just as there are many distinct flavors of pleasure that can be appreciated and savored, so too are there many distinct flavors of pain; and sometimes the two are one, and each heightens the other.

So relax; go limp; stop fighting; just submit; let the wild wave win. Try to appreciate the texture of the pain. Allow this record have its way with your earholes, and it may change the way you hear music and enrich your life, as it did for me and mine.

Psychocandy is the last significant event in popular music production. That’s the last thing I’ve heard which sounds blaringly original. I haven’t heard anything else since then that says, “this is a new way of making records”.

– Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields, only slightly overstating the case.

Scotland’s Jesus and Mary Chain exploded out of East Kilbride with the incendiary 1984 single “Upside Down”, a track which Jason Ankeny of Allmusic succinctly and correctly calls “a remarkable blast of live-wire feedback anchored by a caveman-like drumbeat”:

There were two primary predecessors for the Mary Chain’s brilliant idea to wrap simple, sugar-sweet melodies in industrial-strength sheets of metallic white noise so massive and overwhelming they still retain their ability to shock and awe. Over thirty years on, this record remains a sonically-extreme specimen of rock music.

The first was of course the Velvet Underground, from whom the JAMC inherited a taste for pop perversity; the other was the Ramones, who similarly worshipped the Beach Boys and Spectorian girl groups, they just did it with buzzsaw guitars at octuple speed.

(The black leather jackets were borrowed from both).

But unlike the Velvets, the Mary Chain saw no reason to segregate the shocking and the sweet, their “Sister Ray”s from their “Sunday Morning”s, instead amping both noise AND melody to 11 within the same song; and unlike the Ramones, the brothers (William and Jim Reid) around whom the band revolved were less willing to be live-action cartoons.

(The Ramones may have sung about beating the brat with a baseball bat, but the surly Reids seemed more likely to actually be packing switchblades. I love the Ramones, but so do little kids.)

In so doing, they proved in their own way nearly as influential as either of those bands. I can easily rattle off a dozen bands that would not exist if not for the JAMC’s trailblazing, and an entire subgenre of psychedelic rock – the unfortunately-named “shoegaze” – would either not exist at all, or would look very different, without the Mary Chain providing one of its twin poles.

The embed at top is a full-album rip of their classic album debut that contains one additional track, “Some Candy Talking”, that was not in the original U.S. issue of Psychocandy. Nothing against that track, but I will be following the track order that I have lived with and loved since I was a teenager, and my mom stuck her head into my bedroom to inquire if there was, perhaps, something wrong with my stereo speakers.

Psychocandy does the kindness of easing us in gently, with the swooningly-romantic “Just Like Honey” – the band use, for the first of three times on this album alone, the Ronettes’ iconic “Be My Baby” drumbeat (the JAMC, like the Pixies, are proof positive that if a single idea is great enough, you can use it again and again):

Just Like Honey

The next track is nasty fun, putting the listener into the motorcycle seat and headspace of the Leader of the Pack; let the roar of wind and engines blot out the world and erase any boundaries between hedonism, solipsism, narcissism, and nihilism:

The Living End

The third track on an album is frequently pole-positioned as the pop single; but with typical casual malice, the Reids knock you down with a near-endurance test instead:

Taste The Floor

…then they pick you up from the dirty killing floor – HERE’S the “pop” (well, except for the lyrics about the “the thing (that) swims in blood”):

The Hardest Walk

And that pop melody was no fluke – this lovely acoustic track provides the blueprint for the follow-up album Darklands (once again, there’s that “Baby” drumbeat):

Cut Dead

…or, we could whiplash back into another whirlwind of noise and degradation:

In A Hole

And then, SYNTHESIS! Pretty pop AND world-obliterating industrial noise, both redlined at maximum power!:

Taste Of Cindy

Continuing to perfectly-balance “sugary” and “shattering” here at the album’s chewy center, they give you a Beach Boys record played on a table saw (that yawning scream at the end!):

Never Understand

Basically a “Living End” reprise, played in a wind tunnel or sheet metal factory:

Inside Me

Another pretty number (and “Be My Baby”, AGAIN):

Sowing Seeds

More Beach Boys of Doom:

My Little Underground


You Trip Me Up

And what is for me the finale of the album: “Something’s Wrong” has an epic, the-world-is-ending riff, washing it all away in just two chords (in fact, that riff was so good, they essentially re-used it on the poppier “Happy When It Rains” on the next album – the Reids were master recyclers before recycling was cool):

Something’s Wrong

This is really more of a coda than anything else:

It’s So Hard

What did y’all think?