Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Jesus and Mary Chain

  • Psychocandy [Reprise, 1986] A-
  • Darklands [Warner Bros., 1987] B+
  • Barbed Wire Kisses [Warner Bros., 1988] B-
  • Automatic [Warner Bros., 1989] B-
  • 21 Singles 1984-1998 [Warner Bros./Rhino, 2003]

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Psychocandy [Reprise, 1986]
Pistols comparisons are Anglocentrism--from fuzzy vocals to minimalist tunes, from hard-and-fast surface to sweet-and-chewy center, the formal coups that have made this such a sensation are pure Ramones. My favorite parts are the cheapest; when the feedback wells up over the chords in perfect pseudomelodic formation I feel as if I've been waiting to hear this music all my life. And when the fuzzy lyrics hint half-decipherably at a luxuriant doom impervious to democratic device, I worry that maybe Ian Curtis knew more than I gave him credit for. A-

Darklands [Warner Bros., 1987]
"I'm going to the darklands/To talk in rhyme/With my chaotic soul." Right--they know damn well their putatively erotic-existential despair speaks to thrill-seeking normals by making chaos rhyme. Seems inevitable for them to take their folk-simple hook-ditties in an acoustic direction, too. Yet as a normal I miss the feedback--without all that chaos, the trick just doesn't come off death-defying enough. B+

Barbed Wire Kisses [Warner Bros., 1988]
Not collectors-only--collectors already have this shit. The singles, the CD come-ons, the EP experiments, etc.--some every bit as good as the boys' less memorable album tracks, a few even better than that. Prize: the Jan & Dean cover. Oh those phony brother acts. B-

Automatic [Warner Bros., 1989]
Success didn't lighten them up, but failure straightened them out--this is the hard-driving stuff preferred by all but the true gloom addicts in their target audience, with the gloom taken care of by lyrics about drugs, death, or both. It's as if they live in the glam-metal netherworld, only ever so much more tastefully--they flaunt no groupies, solos, or stupid fashion statements. If you've always had your doubts about their shtick, chances are you'll find the loss of aural mystery fatal. B-

21 Singles 1984-1998 [Warner Bros./Rhino, 2003]
Grinding down the same track to the bitter end, not to mention the bottom line, the Reid brothers proved how alienated they were when the money ran out by persisting intermittently for more than 15 years. By including later titles the naive might mistake for Jan and Dean and Joan Jett covers, this best-of does their tuneful, calculatedly depressive murk as much justice as their formerly definitive debut. Not more, however. [Recyclables]

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