Cash-grab reformations of seminal 80s and 90s acts are becoming par for the course. The Stone Roses endlessly tour the same songs to the same crowds in the same arenas. The Pixies have released new records to widespread critical derision. Even cult shoegaze acts like Slowdive and Ride are making new music, to varying degrees of success. One wonders when the inevitable Gallagher family reunion will grace festival goers across the globe with an Oasis comeback.
And now, The Jesus and Mary Chain, another band of brothers – Jim and William Reid – join that list with Damage and Joy, their first album in 19 years. The Reid brothers’ public reconciliation in 2007 found the band in a totally different musical landscape from the one they stepped into in their coolly uncaring youth – a change triggered largely by them and their sound.
That landscape is one in which the Mary Chain permeates culture – from their songs appearing in Oscar nominated films, to creating the basis of entire genres. A place where the pair are considered elder statesmen of rock and roll rather than arrogant, stand-offish, destructive rebels.
With that status comes a change in approach. Damage and Joy finds them jumping ship from the independence of Creation and Sub Pop to the major label conglomeration of Warner. To go along with this, they have their pick of producers, a far cry from the DIY aesthetic of their early work. Here, former Killing Joke bassist Martin Glover (also known as Youth) is at the helm.
This is reflected in the album’s sound which retains William’s trademark, deafening feedback squall, but lacks the reckless noise of their debut and opus, Psychocandy, and the feeling that, at any second, their whole structure and sound could collapse.
There is a corporate sheen that plagues bands in their middle age, something which blighted the Pixies’ comeback record Indie Cindy. In that case, the newly Kim Deal-less group attempted to bottle the wild aggression and dark humour that existed in their first iteration, with the final product sounding forced and flat, akin to a cheap tribute act.
While Damage and Joy is nowhere near the disaster that record was, there is a sense throughout that you are listening to a watered-down Mary Chain, a cheap imitation of a band held so dear in the hearts of many.
However, where there is damage there is also some joy to be had. Despite the fraternal conflict and motorik rhythms, the Mary Chain have always possessed an inimitable ability to write sickly sweet pop melodies completely drowned in fuzz that wrap themselves around your brain.
Whether it’s cooing alongside former Belle and Sebastian songstress Isobel Campbell (one of a number of guest female vocalists) on ‘Song For A Secret’ or on the dreamy Brian Jonestown Massacre psychedelia of ‘War On Peace’, those sugary sounds are here in abundance, making the record a pleasant listen if not a remarkable one.
All the good things about Damage and Joy coalesce on the Bernadette Denning duet ‘Always Sad’, a perfect piece of bubblegum rock. There is something endearingly simplistic and contemplative about Jim repeating in the chorus “I think I’m always sad, I think I’m always gonna be sad”.
In comparison, on deep cut ‘Simian Split’, he slurs: “I killed Kurt Cobain/I put the shot right through his brain”. This is admittedly a tired and well-worn cliché of a lyric, but the Mary Chain were never known for being poets. They are creators of mood and atmosphere, progenitors of effortless, sunglasses-indoors cool. No great meaning can be pulled from drug referencing, self-loathing, such as on ‘All Things Pass’, but the Mary Chain make it a lot of fun while it lasts.
In pre-release press, the Reids admitted that half of this new album is made up of reworked solo material culled from their hiatus. As the latter half begins to plod, this dearth of inspiration is shown up. Damage and Joy is not a triumphant return to form by any means but it shows there are signs of life in the veteran noise-pop pioneers yet.