By the time The Jesus And Mary Chain staggered to their sixth and, until this year, presumed final album ‘Munki’, the band had all but disintegrated into debilitating infighting between the Reid brothers. The Mary Chain of 1998 was far removed from the incendiary and riotous rabble rousers of 1985 but, in many ways, they were just the same. Jim and William still didn’t get on. They still didn’t like anyone else and they were still making music wildly out of step with contemporary trends. Fast forward almost 20 years and things remain pretty much the same. As they prepare to emerge with comeback album ‘Damage and Joy’ it’s worth remembering ‘Munki’s’ underrated genius and how its fractured, schizophrenic nature points the way perfectly to their unexpected comeback.
‘Munki’ itself arrived following a four-year break. The band were burned out, worn out and severely fucked off. The joyous non-stop party of Britpop didn’t really sit well with the Mary Chain’s nihilistic rock and the band found themselves isolated and unsupported. There were a couple of staunch allies though who remained passionately devoted to the Mary Chain cause. Ex drummer and long-time friend Bobby Gillespie still championed them and when their label Blanco Y Negro refused to release the set of songs that eventually became ‘Munki’ they found a saviour in their old friend and original manager Alan McGee and his iconic Creation label, then riding high post Oasis and the stratospheric sales of ‘Be Here Now’.
So, things had come almost full circle and while nothing could top the white hot, short sharp shock of debut ‘Psychocandy’, ‘Munki’ is The Jesus And Mary Chain album that best represents how deep and dark they could go while remaining capable of making golden pop-tinged hits like the glorious ‘Fizzy’.
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The album is long and indulgent. It’s dirty, dank and celebratory. It’s everything brilliant about the Mary Chain coated in grime and dirt. But perhaps that’s a product of its creation. It was a dark time for everyone involved, particularly Jim and William who were barely communicating. If they were communicating it was through their individual songs where they frequently made brilliant little digs at each other. For example, William’s caustic ‘I Hate Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and Jim’s rousing response ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’. It’s a simple thing that illustrates the dichotomy at the heart of the brother’s relationship that has defined the band for so many years.
‘Munki’ features more call backs to their early days. Namely, the reverential ‘Never Understood’ and ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’s’ celebratory rallying cry. You really can believe that The Jesus And Mary Chain would die for rock ‘n’ roll - that is, if they don’t kill each other first. Musically, the sound is dense and diverse, flitting from fuzzy pop rock to strung out electro jams. The album is highlighted by guest vocals from Hope Sandoval and the Reid’s sister Linda, who also features on the new album. Some of their most special songs have featured female vocalists and, just like on ‘Munki’, the new album once again sees several women duetting with Jim, including Linda, Isobel Campbell and Sky Ferreira.
In many ways, ‘Munki’ is the most playful of all the Mary Chain’s records. They knew their place as rock’s fucked up outsiders and revelled in it. Spitting out visceral barbs from Britpop’s extreme margins, the Reid’s used ‘Munki’ to rail against commercial capitalism, fast food and anything else that made them angry. In 2017 there are even more things to make them angry and once again they follow ‘Munki’s’ lead with the same sort of scattergun aggression and debased pop thrills.
There’s one brilliant line on the new album where Jim Reid sings, “I hate my brother and he hates me/That’s the way it’s supposed to be”. If The Jesus And Mary Chain have been defined by hatred, then ‘Munki’ is arguably the defining Mary Chain record. Following seamlessly in its barbed footsteps it provides an intriguing and illuminating companion to their very welcome comeback.
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The Jesus And Mary Chain will release new album 'Damage and Joy' on March 24th.
Words: Martyn Young // @martynyoung184