Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Jesus and Mary Chain: Guitar Feedback Exponents

The concept of guitar feedback is an oft-misunderstood notion in rock music. To its detractors, it is nothing more than sheer cacophony, blatant, deafening noise deliberately made for the sake of raising a hell of a racket and causing timid ears to bleed.

However, to diehard proponents, guitar feedback is a bona fide sonic innovation, an intricately constructed, densely packed form of orchestration that remains one of the most important developments in late 20th-century rock.

One of the primary exponents of guitar feedback is noise-pop pioneers The Jesus and Mary Chain. The group, comprising Jima nd William Reid, work in a seemingly contradictory musical style: their songs had a bubble-gum melodic foundation, borrowing some of the bright, poppish affectations of The Beach Boys and The Lovin' Spoonful, but they were all wrapped snugly in swirls of aggressive dissonance and atonal white noise.

In conjunction with the recent re-releases of almost the entire Jesus and Mary Chain discography as DualDiscs (i.e. 1985's "Psychocandy", 1987's "Darklands", 1989's "Automatic", 1992's "Honey's Dead" and 1994's "Stoned and Dethroned", but understandably omitting 1998's largely underdeveloped "Munki"), I'd like to run through some of my favourite tunes by these Glaswegian natives:

A good example of early-era JAMC, this slow-motion ballad (most recently used in Sofia Coppola's brilliant existentialist flick "Lost in Translation") is a sweet-toned concoction leavened by harsh, primal drumbeats and most surprisingly, a bedrock of subdued feedback that tries to approximate Phil Spector's Wall of Sound technique. And it works brilliantly too.

The title track to the JAMC's sophomore effort is a stately mid-tempo ballad that downplays the band's feedback fixations for a more atmospheric, accessible vibe that emphasises their hithetro buried melodic sensibilities. One of the most under-recognised classics of the 1980s.

A sneering, rightfully arrogant piece of updated glam-rock that recalls the best moments of T-Rex, the most remarkable thing about "Sidewalking" is that the shards of controlled feedback that anchor the proceedings never once threaten to overwhelm the song's basic structure: instead, the white noise forcefully underline the track's monstrous, underlying menace.

Turbo-charged power chords, calibrated, incendiary feedback, explosive drum work, supercilious, couldn't-give-a-flying-fuck vocals. What's not to like about this let-it-all-hang-out celebration of nihilism?

"I wanna die just like Jesus Christ." An attention-grabbing opening line, if there ever was one. This shoegazer-influenced, Church-baiting, tensely wound number is the musical equivalent of industrial-strength hydrochloric acid.

A gentle, fuzzed-out duet with Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval, this Paisley Underground-informed tune displays a previously undiscovered side to the JAMC. The jangle-pop groove works wonderfully as well.


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