Honey's not dead

The Jesus and Mary Chain love rock and roll, again

"Creation was pretty much advising us not to go through who the rest of their bands go through in America, saying that we'd probably be better off looking for someone else in America," Reid says. "The guy that kind of manages us at the moment, he knows people at Sub Pop. He just suggested that we try Sub Pop. We met them, and they said all the right things. It just seemed like the same kind of vibe as we got in Britain with Creation: people that are into the music. It feels good. You know, we had been kind of been watching the rise of Creation over the past couple of years, and felt that we'd like to be part of it. Of course, we couldn't. So, it's good to be back."

Reid sounds like a rookie big-leaguer recently called up from the minors, just happy to be on the team. He may not be entirely comfortable with the Jesus and Mary Chain's current position, picking up the pieces on Sub Pop and Creation after more than a decade on Warner Bros., but he's not complaining. After all, any record label is better than none at all.

"Looking back on it now, it worked out pretty much for the best," he allows. "I mean, of course, at the time...We'd been on Warner Bros. for years. It was a long, long time that the relationship had gone on, and then suddenly to just be told that they weren't interested anymore was a bit of a shock. It kind of dents your confidence a little bit."

In the end, the band was as much to blame for its dismissal from Warner Bros. as anyone at the label. The Jesus and Mary Chain's last proper album, 1994's quieter Stoned and Dethroned, was a disappointment, deservedly rejected by critics and fans alike. It was the band's attempt to get on the radio, even including a Lee Hazelwood-Nancy Sinatra duet ("Sometimes Always") between Jim and Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval, William's on-again, off-again girlfriend. The band's trademark guitar pyrotechnics were toned down, and sometimes forsaken, for an undistinguished light-rock approach that probably had more than a few people thinking that their CD player must be broken. It was an abrupt departure from the bubble-gum-and-broken-glass sound of Honey's Dead, released only two years earlier. In relation to the band's work up until that point, Stoned and Dethroned sounded as if the Jesus and Mary Chain had lost the plot, the actors, and the stage.

It didn't help that the band followed up Stoned and Dethroned with The Jesus and Mary Chain Hate Rock 'n' Roll, its third rarities compilation, joining 1988's Barbed Wire Kisses and 1993's The Sound of Speed. Except for four new tracks (the title track also appears on Munki), the album was a wasteland of alternate takes, dance mixes, and B-side-quality B-sides. It almost seemed as though the band wanted Warner Bros. to get rid of it.

From the sound of Munki, getting dropped was the best thing that could have happened to the band. The album is almost like a Jesus and Mary Chain best-of re-written with different lyrics, a testament to the fact that while the band may have only come up with one idea in its career, it was a great one. Bracketed by "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" and "I Hate Rock 'n' Roll," Munki is sort of a concept album that examines the band's career, from early inspirations ("Stardust Remedy") to later frustrations ("Birthday"). Reid claims that was never the intention, just a side effect of years of bottled-up tension.

"An album just kind of happens almost, takes its own direction," he says. "We didn't really make any blueprint or plan for the album. We did want to sound kind of more band-like, more like a bunch of people playing music together rather than layers of guitars and stuff. That was about the only decision that we had made, to just let it go a bit."

The result is a return to the kind of pedal-pushing cacophony for which the band is known. The eerie "Commercial" sounds like a lost track from the recording sessions for Psychocandy, and songs such as "Black" and "Cracking Up" wouldn't sound out of place on Honey's Dead, as the band creates melody out of droning repetition. The best cut on the album is "Stardust Remedy," which sounds like something Phil Spector might have produced if he were around now, a wall of sound built with bricks of shimmering, shimmying guitar noise. The lyrics reach back to Jim and William's teenage years, growing up during England's punk revolution of the late '70s.

"When the whole punk thing happened, a lot of things came into focus, were clarified in our minds," Jim says. "When I heard punk rock, I knew what I was gonna do with my life, although lazily, I didn't really do anything about it for a couple of years. I just sat around thinking, 'One day I'll do this.' Then eventually, it just got to the point where it was now or never, if I don't do something about this now, I'm never gonna do it."

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