“Dead Sound” off The Raveonettes’ recently released Lust Lust Lust is perfect streamlined buzzsaw pop. The whole album, in fact, is a near-perfect fusion of their noise-drenched Jesus and Mary Chain worship with the more spacious and reverb-drenched sound of Pretty in Black. It doesn’t have a thought in its head, but it sure is pretty.
head on 3
Once upon a time, I spent what seemed like an endless night with some friends watching a compilation of all of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s videos. Every one was identical: William and Jim Reid, standing in front of a monochrome backdrop (sometimes black, sometimes white, sometimes with cheesy video effects overlaid), staring straight into the camera with deadpan expressions (if they weren’t wearing sunglasses), listlessly strumming at their instruments without too much concern for staying in sync with the songs they were miming. Sometimes one would halfheartedly dance around, staring fixedly at the camera the whole time. After what seemed like eight hours (but was probably only four), it was a relief to switch to Nekromantik 2, and as anyone who has experienced that bizarre mindfuck (I hesitate to call it porn) knows, that’s saying something. After that night, it’s been easy for me to believe that the band are exactly as humorless as they seem.
But there’s always Barbed Wire Kisses. It was the first Jesus and Mary Chain album I bought, after hearing “Sidewalking” on the lone “alternative” radio show that Portland radio carried in syndication. “Sidewalking” is a catchy, propulsive electro-rockabilly ode to personal transportation, and I was mostly excited to hear it again, but the album ripped the top of my head clean off. The next day I was ranting to my friends at school, “DUDE, you’ve GOT to HEAR this! These guys use FEEDBACK as an INSTRUMENT!” I think it’s that combination of noise and pop that made JAMC so influential on My Bloody Valentine (who, after all, started out sounding pretty much exactly like The Cramps, another band of rockabilly outlaws) and the other Creation bands of the late 80s.
Barbed Wire Kisses is a collection of singles and B-side tracks, but it has a coherency and sleek, menacing sound that I miss on the rest of JAMC’s records. It also has a few choice covers, and that’s where it seems like maybe they do have a deeply buried sense of whimsy (if not humor), because their choices for artists to cover are Bo Diddley, the Beach Boys, and… Can? They somehow take “Mushroom”, one of Damo Suzuki’s stream of consciousness rants, and make it sound positively malign. It’s not quite as doom-hollowed as “Cracked”, which has a queasy sexual vibe that both thrilled and spooked me back in 1988, but the JAMC version brings out the nuclear-war subtext in a way that’s left completely implied in the original.
(As a side note, it’s always mystified me why the Pixies chose to cover “Head On”, probably one of the least interesting songs in the entire JAMC catalog, by turning it into probably one of the least interesting songs in the entire Pixies catalog.)