It may be apocryphal, but James Joyce is alleged to have said about Finnegans Wake, “It took me 17 years to write it, and it should take 17 years to read it.” I thought of that when, 19 years after their best album, Munki, was released into the wild, The Jesus and Mary Chain put out its followup, Damage And Joy.
When a band comes back from the dead — or in the Mary Chain’s case, from reforming only to tour, not release new music — they’ve already heard all the nice things said about them at their funeral. The Reid brothers broke up their act in 1998 either because they’d brought it to what they thought was its conclusion, or they just couldn’t take another day together. But of course, even before they went back on the road some years ago, the Jesus and Mary Chain have lived on in the form of all those bands who saw what they had done — graft Velvet Underground songwriting and guitar chords onto the possibilities of drum machines and new recording technology — and were inspired.
In the time since they metaphorically burned their guitars, a lot has happened, and we’re not talking about all of the nasty changes in our world since the boom days of the late Clinton Administration. Jim Reid got sober. JAMC’s festival shows led to semi-regular touring, and despite — or because of — they way they turned the amps to 11, a new generation of fans for whom Psycho Candy was as distant, in some ways, as The Velvet Underground & Nico, saw them as the masters that they were. It became inevitable that they would release new recorded music.
We were unprepared for how great an album Damage And Joy is. Purists may not like it because it’s not Finnegans Wake, it’s not difficult, it’s Dubliners: simple, easy to absorb, damn near perfect. By the time December rolls around, we are certain it will remain high on our list of the year’s best albums. It’s the Jesus and Mary Chain album we have waited for, somewhat anxiously, for a long, long time.
We confess that we never loved Psycho Candy all that much. The juxtaposition of Beach Boys’ songs, Sterling Morrison guitar, and Ramones’ propulsion against an industrial squall was interesting, but in many ways unlistenable. Darklands was where we fell in love, with its spaciousness and gorgeous songwriting coalescing into a sound we could embrace. Through those early ’90s hits, we hung on as they created a machine that was an early precursor of EDM while maintaining its linkage to real rock’n’roll. For us, Stoned and Dethroned was the keeper, the classic, the songwriting at a peak, the wrestling match between melodies and riffs, between Jim’s hoarse whisper-singing and William’s guitar textures becoming not only one of the ’90s highlights, but an album for the ages. When Munki came out in 1998 — perhaps rock’s greatest year — it was the culmination and the end of the line, Jim and William’s ambivalence — and conflict — were captured in the songs that began and ended the album: “I Love Rock’n’Roll” followed by “I Hate Rock’n’Roll.” But now they are back, and for the moment the ambivalence is gone. Whatever happens from here, The Jesus and Mary Chain have returned from the dead, and the Hallelujah chorus is awesome to behold.