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Darklands in a New Light

Posted by on Jan 31, 2012 in Music | 0 comments

Darklands

Wouldn’t you also buy the reissue of an album that you merely like from a band that you love?

I first heard The Jesus and Mary Chain‘s Darklands almost 25 years ago, in September of 1987. I got it on vinyl because it was cheaper than the CD ($6.99 versus $15.99) and I had heard bad things about it. Recorded with a drum machine. Song lengths had ballooned to five-plus minutes.

On the plus side, though, cranky Tim Yohannan of Maximumrocknroll had listed the pre-album EP of “April Skies” in his top 10 for the month. I had to cover all my bases by buying the LP and the EP (the latter had two songs not on the LP, “Kill Surf City” and a cover of Bo Diddley‘s “Who Do You Love”).

Darklands wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but I was still disappointed. Psychocandy, the first album, was one of my all-time favorites (and still is). The agonized vocals and harsh feedback articulated the frustration I felt at having moved in the summer and spending my senior year in a new high school.

Darklands was mellow by comparison. No screaming. No guitars screaming, either. There was that damned drum machine, too, giving the songs the feel of demos rather than formal studio recordings. I would argue that a few songs — the title track, “Deep One Perfect Morning” and “On the Wall” — prefigured the hush rock (yes, I’m coining that term) that artists like Still Corners and Lana Del Ray practice now.

Tim was right in that the EP was consistently better. The manic energy of “Kill Surf City” wasn’t hampered with the drum machine and the menacing Bo Diddley cover was creepier than anything on Darklands.

The live show was shit. The Jesus and Mary Chain was set to play two nights at The Ritz (which is now the dreadful Webster Hall). I could only see the second night. I ran into my physics lab partner after he saw the first night. He was the only other guy on campus who wore a Jesus and Mary Chain t-shirt. I asked him how the show was. He shook his head in disgust.

“They had problems with the drum machine and had to start half their songs over,” he said. “On top of that, the guy was drunk off his ass!” That referred to the main singer, Jim Reid.

I got lucky. On the second night they only had to restart two songs. But Jim, and maybe everybody else, was drunk or high. I remember reading that they liked to get majorly fucked up for shows, but that works with manic stuff (Psychocandy) better than trudgy stuff (Darklands).

What the hell was going to happen to this band?

Everything became clear just a few months later in the spring of 1988 with the release of Barbed Wire Kisses, the compilation of B-sides and detritus that spanned the entire lifespan of the band to that point. It helped me see how the band expressed itself by exploding and then cooling off and imploding. I didn’t truly understand, though, until I was writing my second book This Is a Bust after the, ah, “explosive,” Waylaid.

The recent reissue of Darklands develops more of the story by including relevant tracks from Barbed Wire Kisses along with a whole bunch more tracks. I like the album itself more now than before, but there’s still that damned drum machine…

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