‘Just Like Honey’, the best-known song on The Jesus and Mary Chain’s 1985 debut album Psychocandy, begins with an echoing, minimalist beat (drummer Bobby Gillespie famously used only a snare and a floor-tom). The song’s vintage effect, referencing not alternative rock but The Ronettes 60s girl-group classic ‘Be My Baby’, gives way to squalls of feedback and guitars that buzz like a dentist’s drill. Its a glorious, assaultive racket that would be alienating were it not revealed as a protective layer frequently pulled back to glimpse an underlying substrate of satisfyingly-conventional, dreamy pop.
Formed in Glasgow in 1983 by brothers (and songwriting partners) Jim and William Reid, The Jesus and the Mary Chain have an important place in the history of British indie music. The band is regarded as the progenitors of the noisy, introspective art-rock sub-genre known as ‘Shoe Gaze’, although their swagger and volume identified them with the contemporary post-punk movement. While his presence in the JAMC was short-lived, Gillespie would become an icon in his own right as a songwriter and the irascible founder of legendary dance-rock group Primal Scream.
The JAMC influence has extended also to the other side of the Atlantic. Nirvana, in particular, appear to have absorbed their heavy-quiet-heavy formula and layering of pop melodies with instrumental violence, as, to some extent, did Dunedin bands like Snapper and High Dependency Unit.
Film viewers will recognise ‘Just Like Honey’ from Sophia Coppola’s moody, Tokyo-set May-December romance, Lost in Translation (2003). The song plays over the melancholic final sequence in which Bill Murray rides in a cab through the streets of the futuristic metropolis. It was used widely in the movie’s promotion, meshing indelibly with its sense of quiet yearning.
I’m only a casual JAMC fan and unfortunately missed their concert last year, but have always loved the intensity and beauty of Psychocandy. I picked up a lightly-used copy of the LP (NZ pressing) at the store Needle in the Hay in Hamilton which, as well as records, has a tasteful selection of home furnishings (they’re not paying me in any way to say that!).