The Jesus and Mary Chain – “Automatic”

Barry: How about The Jesus and Mary Chain?
Customer: They always seemed…
Barry: They always seemed what? The always seemed really great is what they always seemed.

I’ve never knowingly heard The Jesus and Mary Chain until today, which is interesting because I’m all about this style of garage psych shoegaze right now. Generally described as the band’s third album, 1989s Automatic was and still is viewed as a marginal release by most reviewers, though in 2006 Pitchfork noted that “conventional wisdom wrongly calls this the dud…” and notes that at its best moments the album “…feels like a career peak.” Fortunately I have a copy of the record and a turntable, so I can make up my own mind.

Automatic reminds me more than a little of the things I like about bands like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Singapore Sling, a certain amount of moody, snotty relentlessness. But also like those bands, while I love listening to a handful of songs in one sitting, sometimes playing an entire album is tiring to my ears. The high points, though, are outstanding. Side A gives us a pair of killer tracks, “Coast to Coast” and “UV Ray,” while the flip side has arguably the Chain’s most popular song, “Head On.” I’ve read their style described as post punk, particularly “Head On” which is compared to Joy Division, though it’s far from pure Joy Division. It’s got some post punk elements, but the overall vibe isn’t nearly so gloomy, and musically The Jesus and Mary Chain are tight and organized.

The band’s debut Psychocandy is widely considered to be their best work, and given how much I enjoyed Automatic I’m going to need to check it out too.

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