Jesus And Mary Chain - Darklands
Although somewhat different in style to Psychocandy, Darklands turned out to be an impressive follow up album, one which did not fall into the dreaded second-album syndrome trap which so often bedevils many bands proving fatal to their careers. The Jesus and Mary Chain managed to produce an album which both advanced, musically, what they had done with their debut, but also managed not to be such a radical departure from that debut as to alienate the people who had found some connection and empathy with Psychocandy and were expecting something along the same lines. However, the Reid brothers had obviously realised that to release two albums in a row of the same ear-shattering dense, feedback-drenched noise would be a signal of ultimate failure on their part. They had to move on. What they did was to take a step back to the roots of the music which had influenced them in the first place.
Their debut album was an innovative work and would provide an inspiration to artists from shoegaze to post-rock. Some critics and fans found the feedback quite disturbing but there can be no doubt that it was what made the Jesus and Mary Chain stand out from the crowd at the time. When Darklands came out, there were those who were put off listening to it by their experiences with the first album. On Darklands, the feedback is still there, but it is subdued and not so up front as on their first offering, Psychocandy. In that sense, the band had lost the original edge which set them apart. They were rescued (partially at least) by the quality of songs on this album. Here the band concentrate more on the melodies and less on the effects. The result is a subtle change in style. Some fans and critics derided this as a sell out. But in truth, it made more apparent what many had realised from the start - that once you strip the Jesus and Mary Chain of the noise which surrounded their first album, what you were left with was a collection of catchy pop songs. Yet it is a form of pop which was never going to be popular in the UK as far as getting commercial radio play would go for it lacked the qualities which mainstream music demanded - happy, upbeat, accessible music.
As a result of this change, the songs rely on more traditional melodic patterns (perhaps the one big criticism of their first album was the lack of melody) underpinned by clever use of drum machines, for me as for many, the bane of the eighties. If the music isn't good you can't hide behind the wall of noise this time. Thankfully, the music is good. The tracks are, like the first album, almost traditional pop in their conception and more so in their delivery. “Happy when It Rains” is a typical example, which bounds along with steady rhythm and a singalong chorus uplifted by some nice jangly guitars and the occasional crunching guitar blast to remind you of where the band came from. It was a formula which had served indie music well for half a decade and would continue to do so until the present day. It gradually morphed into the quiet-loud-quiet format which the Pixies relied on, and which also gave distinctiveness to grunge. The Jesus and Mary Chain proved, with this album, that they could move away from their ground-breaking debut album without losing the ability they had to influence British music for a generation to come.
Good songs abound on the album. "Happy When It Rains", for example, is one of my all-time favourite Jesus and Mary Chain tracks, "Deep One Perfect Morning", "April Skies" and "When Cherry Came Too" are also up there among the noteworthy offerings. In fact, there is no filler on this album at all. It has, from end to end, a quality which many bands would die for. However, the highlight for me, definitely the stand-out track on the album, is the oft-criticised and thoroughly miserable "Nine Million Rainy Days". This song slowly drags you down to the pits of despair and then stamps on you. However, the ending is almost upbeat by comparison, leaving you with a strange mixture of elation and depression by the end. Now isn't that what the Jesus and Mary Chain have long been about?
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