Having spent my Saturday painstakingly fighting a wallpaper border, taking a hard-won victory inch by bloody inch, I’m more than usually full of angst and spite this evening. So I reached for Jesus & Mary Chain for that very reason and partly because I’ve moved things around and they’re right next to my chair. I thought I’d be a clever dude and contrast two singles of theirs Reverence and I Hate Rock ‘n’ Roll, to my mind their best and their last real singles*.
Cards on table time, Reverence is easily one of the very best 12″s I own – period. It really is that good. After the dip of the Automatic LP** they really raised their game for next LP Honey’s Dead adding some live drums again, as well as breakbeats and some well-judged sculptural feedback, they raised their game to the top again. Reverence was the first single released, I remember a depressingly inevitable tabloid furore over the lyrics,
I wanna die just like Jesus Christ
I wanna die on a bed of spikes
I wanna die just like JFK
I wanna die on a sunny day
I remember Henry Rollins being particularly annoyed (it doesn’t take much, it seems) when I saw him on a spoken word tour, about the last bit of the lyrics and going into graphic detail about what it was like to see someone having their face blown off (his friend Joe Cole), but I think he missed the point of this. As always once you strip away a certain amount of arty posturing, sarcasm and wilfulness from JAMC you’re left with a reverential love of rock and roll, teen movies and black-leather-jacketed 50’s hoods. All these lyrics are is a glorification of the whole live fast die young ethos, written by guys well into their 30’s at the time; in fact it reminds me heartily of Roger McGough’s poem ‘Let me Die a Young Man’s Death’^. Besides I love the line ‘I wouldnt sell my soul, but I’d haggle it’.
The music? intense, intense, intense indie rock bolted onto an almost quasi-baggy beat, odd electronic noises thrown into the mix. It’s a real slap in the face, a real wake-up moment. And that’s the third nest track on the 12″!!
Next track ‘Heat’ sounds a little like an outtake from their earlier B-sides LP Barbed Wire Kisses, sung hard over a semi-acoustic backing, ‘heat coming down, heat coming around’ almost moaned into the mic until hard-squalling guitar hits you about half-way through and you get lost in the sound of the song, which is still going on in the background despite the guitargument (see what I did there?) going on in the foreground.
The B-side of Reverence, is the best side of vinyl Jesus & Mary Chain ever put out. ‘Reverence-Radio Mix’ is sheer divine genius from the second it starts, it even made me leap up and play air guitar this evening, tired old buffoon that I am, hell not even air guitar, just air feedback. The beats are just incredible – a dragster compared to the other version’s pickup, propelling the whole black leather and chrome mess into a breakneck game of chicken with the Stooges ‘I Wanna be Your Dog’ (which JAMC borrowed the riff from in the first place). This track is so feral-sounding you can tell the vinyl can barely contain it. Just one of all my all-time favourites, check it out below.
The last track, a cover of ‘Guitarman’ runs it really close though, really close indeed. Again, this is 50’s rock and roll, literally this time, run fast on nitrous oxide. The choppy riffing that kicks in for the second verse just floors me every time. I have spent a lot of time singing along to this version. The feedback-heavy totally overdriven guitar solo just slays me every time too. ‘He was a degenerates, degenerate’, indeed!
That this was a top 10 hit here in the UK, gives me a certain amount of faith in my fellow countrymen.
I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, 10″ beauty^^ that it was, had been filed away in my brain as ‘average’, wrongly as it happens. Okay, so the lyrics are a bit clumsy and the vocal, maybe a touch too mannered for my tastes, but this is another serious record. There is a certain divine chaos to the title track, even with its (yawn) controversial lines,
I love the BBC
Even when they’re pissing on me
I love MTV
Even when they’re shitting on me
There are some genuinely ragged edges lurking here and it really was a lot better than I remembered, although it’s not a classic of theirs by any means.
The other tracks of note here, ‘Bleed Me’ and ’33 1/3′, do have a real similarity. Both start off in a restrained fashion, especially the former which sounds like a late Velvet Underground track and then in both tunes the band just drop a massive, negative monster-fucking guitar bomb slap-bang-boom! In both cases to startling effect, all restraint gone. Peace is always an illusion, just a precursor to noise in a JAMC song; but, as always JAMC cleverly leave you with the hint of the tune playing beneath the twitching, shrieking feedback, there’s enough there to keep you into it and listening hard.
So there you have it, two singles, one brilliant, one good. Now I can’t believe I have just written 1125 words about two singles, sorry.
*I don’t really count the last, weak LP, Munki.
**which I still really like, it’s the Jesus & Mary Chain’s Turbo and/or their Fly on The Wall – the one all their fans slag off, but I really like.
^(needs to be read aloud, for full effect – God I love this poem!)
Let me die a youngman’s death
not a clean and in-between
the sheets holywater death
not a famous-last-words
peaceful out of breath death
When I’m 73
and in constant good tumour
may I be mown down at dawn
by a bright red sports car
on my way home
from an all-night party
Or when I’m 91
with silver hair
and sitting in a barber’s chair
may rival gangsters
with hamfisted tommyguns burst in
and give me a short back and insides
Or when I’m 104
and banned from the Cavern
may my mistress
catching me in bed with her daughter
and fearing for her son
cut me up into little pieces
and throw away every piece but one
Let me die a youngman’s death
not a free from sin tiptoe in
candle wax and waning death
not a curtains drawn by angels borne
‘what a nice way to go’ death (by Roger McGough)
^^a limited edition of 5000, which makes my copy, number 6836, a bit baffling.