Essential Records: The Jesus & Mary Chain 'Psychocandy'

Posted by Billy Gil, January 30, 2015 05:00pm | Post a Comment

Like many records whose reputations precede them, Psychocandy, the debut album by Scottish troublemakers The Jesus & Mary Chain, should be approached with caution and when you’re ready, not because someone told you to listen to it.

I picked up Psychocandy sometime in 2002 from Amoeba Hollywood, shortly after the store opened. I was going to school in San Diego at the time, and my friends and I would make trips up to Lou’s Records in Encinitas and Amoeba to binge buy used CDs. No one told me to get Psychocandy like Barry from High Fidelity, but I knew I probably should, judging by my growing obsessions with Sonic Youth, The Velvet Underground and My Bloody Valentine.

The first time I put it on, on my shitty car stereo, I couldn’t really hear what was going on. A car full of people talking didn’t help. It just sounded like static to me, but I was intrigued. I listened later on and, of course, became full-on obsessed.

“Just Like Honey” is the obvious entry point and still a hauntingly beautiful song that is universal in a Nirvana sorta way. But the album’s next few tracks are its best. “The Living End” isn’t just a song title that Gregg Araki would nick for his great movie of the same name; its overall vibe is so underground and elusive that listening always makes you feel a lot cooler than you really are. It doesn’t matter that I’m way too chicken shit to ever ride a motorcycle. Both “The Living End” and “Taste the Floor” introduce a sonic trick that other great bands would mimic, like the aforementioned Nirvana, their inspirations in The Pixies (who themselves would cover J&MC’s “Head On”) and shoegaze followers like Lush and Swervedriver, piling added distortion on what already felt like too much to begin with, like pouring chocolate syrup all over a chocolate cake. It’s overwhelming and awesome.

Since it’s essentially made up of 14 variations on a theme, Psychocandy is a perfect record. There aren’t any faulty tracks because nothing deviates too far from the formula—Beatles/girl group-style melodies roughed up like burnt rubber tires, smothered with cascades of guitar noise and battered with bone-simple beats. I used to never make it past track eight, “Never Understand,” because it was my favorite and so well-placed (right after the shocking “In a Hole” and blistering bubblegum of “Taste of Cindy”) that I would wait for it and then just stop listening to the album after that. That might not sound like a good thing, but now, years later, the album’s second half is more alluring, given that I’ve somewhat worn the first half out. “Inside Me” has the most badass riff on the album (well, one of the only riffs, but who cares). “Sowing Seeds” is essentially “Just Like Honey” pt. 2, giving the album a cyclical thing that makes it feel like you just started side A again. “My Little Underground” has one of the catchiest melodies and cadences on the album. “You Trip Me Up” is a single that gains traction over time. The album’s closers re-present both sides of J&MC: “Something Wrong’s” distortion is somehow gleaming, its melodies seem like they’re floating; “It’s So Hard” ends the album with uncompromising noise from a tin can, animalistic vocals spiraling down the drain.

It doesn't really matter that Scottish brothers Jim and William Reid never made another album as great as their 1985 debut, or that they might not make another album together in their current reunited state (I'm not counting on it, given the brothers' contentious relationship). Together with Douglas Hart on bass and Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie on drums, J&MC created something pivotal and enduring with Psychocandy, something that probably always will greatly affect people of a certain class. It somehow deadens your pain, kills brain cells and awakens you all at the same time. 

But back to what I was saying before: Don’t listen to Psychocandy because I or anyone else told you to. Check it out if it sounds intriguing to you, because chances are it will pull you in and never let go.


Relevant Tags

The Jesus And Mary Chain (4), Essential Albums (7), Essential Records (35), Psychocandy (1), Shoegaze (36), Gregg Araki (1), High Fidelity (4)