Jesus & Mary Chain : 21 Singles

Feedback, sunglasses, riots - the [i]real[/i] young person's guide to rock and roll...

It’s not just the songs that are immaculate. With Black Rebel Motorcycle Club currently spreading their love like a fever, the release of a Jesus And Mary Chain singles collection is perfectly timed. Not that there could ever really be a wrong moment: this stuff is part of rock’n’roll’s essential lexicon – bringing fashion into play is like deciding that that the words “building” and “tree” are no longer modish enough. Black leather, dour attitude, exhilarating noise, electric-shock impact: these are things that have remained immutable since Elvis. The Jesus And Mary Chain knew it better than pretty much anyone.

In other words, it’s instant gratification for anyone ever transfixed by the illicit demi-monde that The Velvet Underground seemingly promised every new arrival at the Port Authority. The clean lines of rock heritage seem redundant, however when you hear the feral squall of debut single ‘Upside Down’ – still everything that’s good and impure about a guitar. That, together with the follow-up ‘Never Understand’, might just as easily have come from boys raised by wolverines as pale East Kilbride loners tied to their record collection and their television set. It was never just about the noise, though: the vice-girl-group fug of ‘Just Like Honey’ and ‘Some Candy Talking’ signal the arrival of ‘Psychocandy’, a universal language of cool filtered through murky us-vs-them insularity. For all the steals, all the signposts, it still sounds like a world of its own, Reid Brothers ESP finally transmitting to a wider audience.

What this chronological collection obviously and unfairly highlights is that after that initial blast, they would never be quite as startling again. ‘April Skies’ and ‘Happy When It Rains’ (from 1987’s ‘Darklands’) are great songs but don’t have that same timeless imperative zinging through their wires and it’s down to ‘Sidewalking’, nonchalantly marking out its territory with a leather-booted strut, and the crazed euphoria of ‘Head On’ to wind up the generation-defining magic. That’s not to say it’s over.

‘Reverence’ doesn’t sound as cool as it used to in the dance-beats-and-guitars! hysteria of 1992, but you can still imagine that it would be banned from ‘Top Of The Pops’, while 1994’s ‘Sometimes Always’, featuring languid pin-up Hope Sandoval, does Tindersticks better than Tindersticks. It’s probably not what JAMC were for. The closing tracks here – 1999’s ‘I Hate Rock And Roll’ and ‘I Love Rock’n’Roll’ – show an admirable contrariness but expecting The Jesus And Mary Chain to match their early impact was like expecting a meteor to leap out of its crater and fall to earth all over again. The trail they blazed, however, has never burnt out.

Victoria Segal