mary chain



"We always wondered why nobody made pop music with the backing

like Einstürzende Neubaten."*

I scare myself. How many times recently have I listened to a record and said, “They don’t make them like that any more’ and then realised I was turning into my parents? Except I was referring to X-Ray Spex, the Birthday Party and See See Rider rather than Nat King Cole. Only in listening to the newly released Mary Chain repackages did I realise I was saved. The same words were leaping to my mind when I dismissed them. They never did make records like this in the first place. Nobody made records like The Jesus and Mary Chain. Ever.

Hearing their story is like reliving my life. Growing up in a quiet, conformist town, they were kids who loved glam rock and were then blown away by punk and enthralled by the innovators who followed in its footsteps, crashing open previously locked doors and exploring dangerous, new territory. They lived for music, discussing it endlessly, and spent years dreaming of just what the perfect band should be. Eventually they came to the conclusion nothing would happen unless they got off their arses and started piecing together the jigsaw that would link Motown to Public Image Limited and the Shangri-las to Einstürzende Neubaten. They took up their guitars ...

Brothers William and Jim Reid were always the heart of the band, reinforced by kindred spirit Douglas Hart on bass. Naturally introverted, bordering on socially inadequate, they couldn’t take to the stage without being tanked up and initially created a shambolic racket that confused most in attendance and delighted others. They never played for more than twenty minutes, William brilliantly explaining that no band in existence was good enough to inflict more than that on any audience. Jim was more prosaic, noting the band didn’t have any more songs. That the Reid brothers were constantly at each other’s throats was just an added bonus. Legend has it that when they first met Creation Records boss Alan McGee to play him some of their songs, they charged through one number arguing with each other as they played. Of course McGee loved it. The game plan was to create perfect pop music shrouded in extreme backing noise: and when they learned to play a little better, that is exactly what they did.

Having split from original drummer Murray Dalglish, the band’s image was only enhanced when they recruited their mate Bobby Gillespie to the ranks. No drummer, the Primal Scream frontman restricted himself to floor tom and snare and played standing up. With Hart playing with just two strings on his bass because they were the only two he ever used, the Mary Chain now looked the coolest band on the planet and with every minor incident at every gig blown out of all proportion by a hungry press, fuelled by McGee, the Mary Chain slowly became regarded as the new Sex Pistols. Their first record, a welter of feedback drowning a straightforward pop song named ‘Upside Down’ became Creation’s biggest selling single and the Mary Chain were on their way to becoming the most exciting, most dangerous band on the planet.

The second single, ‘Never Understand’ followed in March 1985 and I remember hearing it for the first time in the Herne Bay record shop and commenting on how commercial it sounded. Listening to it now and playing it to those who only listen to conventional music, that appears to be a crazy comment, but it is more refined than ‘Upside Down’, more confident in what it is trying to achieve; in many ways it is more commercial, but it is never Radio 1 music. It reached No.47 and not one of the band’s later releases would fail to make some dent on the charts. The Mary Chain broke the top twenty in 1986 with their fifth single ‘Some Candy Talking’ and the top ten a year later with ‘April Skies’. The band continued until the fragile relationship between the Reids finally broke down terminally in 1998, some six albums and twenty-one singles down the line.

Now, nearly twenty-six years after the release of their debut album ‘Psychocandy’, all of these albums have been repackaged by Rhino into double CD sets with an additional DVD thrown in for luck: and what a stunning collection they make. Each original album is presented in all its glory with the second disc containing missing b-sides, radio sessions, demos and outtakes. The DVD contains the band’s promo videos along with various television appearances – and all for under a tenner each.

The band described ‘Psychocandy’ (surely the best named album in history?) as the most extreme album ever made and they are probably not far off. From the gently suffocating ‘Just Like Honey’ to the storming ‘In A Hole’ and the crushing ‘Taste The Floor’, this is clearly a band with a firm grip on what they are trying to achieve, stealing from the 50s, 60s and 70s as they create something completely new. Rooted in pop history they remain respectful whilst simultaneously blowing the past out of the water. Some of the lyrics are tremendous, “The hardest walk you could ever take is the walk you take from A to B. To C.” Genius. And surely the pinnacle of everything the band was meant to be comes to fruition in the glorious ‘You Trip Me Up’. Melody and noise collide, creating a moment of pure magic, all adorned with the perfect lyric, “Love’s like the mighty ocean when its frozen. That is your heart.” The extras bring you the Creation single ‘Upsde Down’ and its b-side Syd Barrett’s ‘Vegetable Man’ as well as various BBC sessions, demos and outtakes, and the videos are enjoyable if just for Jim Reid’s obvious embarrassment at being in front of the camera. These take in the three major label singles as well as clips from The Old Grey Whistle Test and The Tube.

‘Darklands’, released in September 1987, and which reached No.5 in the album charts, was the perfect response to the carnage of its predecessor: mellow, dark and tuneful and free from feedback. With Gillespie feeling unable to commit full time to the band and departing to concentrate on Primal Scream, the second album made use of a drum machine and was produced by William Reid. The contrast here is between the unremitting darkness of the lyrics against the lightness, and occasional brightness, of the music. The single ‘Happy When It Rains’ speeds along with life-affirming joy while Jim Reid can only intone, “You take me back to nothing. I’m on the edge of something. You take me back.” Again, the lyrics dazzle, and who else could have got away with singing “Cherry’s scratching like a grain of sand, the trigger itch in the killer’s hand. Me and Cherry are so extreme, making love to a sound of a scream” in a gentle Beach Boys pastiche? This is such a brave album which opened the band up to no end of criticism, but mainly ended in earning them respect. The new package incudes the non-album single ‘Some Candy Talking’ and a whole host of b-sides, demos and sessions, the DVD including the videos for three singles as well as performances from Top Of The Pops and The Roxy.

‘Automatic’, released in October 1989, was the first of the band’s efforts to draw media criticism, not least for its use of a drum machine and sequenced bass despite Hart still being a member of the band. Intended to be a fusion of primitive rock ‘n’ roll and modern technology (hence the title), this perhaps inevitably is the most American sounding of the Mary Chain’s albums and, despite recent attmpts to rehabilitate it, is probably the least satisfying example of the band’s work. This can be undlined by the fact Amazon describes the release as “the easiest entry point into The Jesus And Mary Chain back catalogue”! Preceded by the swaggering single ‘Sidewalking’, ‘Automatic’ does have some highs, including the pleasingly obvious influence of glam rock in some big, reverberating guitar breaks, and the tremendous single ‘Blues From A Gun’. Again, it comes repackaged with every extra your heart could desire, including the three videos from the singles and some takes from Snub TV.

‘Honey’s Dead’ from March 1992, followed the departure of Hart with the Reid brothers using various musicians from now on to play drums, bass and even rhythm guitar, with only Ben Lurie becoming an official member of the band, staying with them from the Automatic tour until the band’s demise in 1998. ‘Honey’s Dead’ was a massive return to form, containing some of the best work they had ever done. Opening with the spitting ‘Reverence’, a top ten single which could never be played on daytime radio, the sound was huge, noisy and brash, yet retaining its melodic undertones. The second single ‘Far Gone and Out’ was as good as anything the band had released, full of massive hooks and a pleasingly disturbed frame of mind, "I'm taking my thoughts to a railway station, put 'em on a train just to see what's coming back ... it's coming like a heart attack.” This is an album that sounds like a natural successor to ‘Pyschocandy’, a work of brilliance: challenging, inspiring and confident. Again, oodles of goodies come with it: five videos as well as clips from The Word and The Late Show with the CDs showcasing the band live at the Sheffield Arena in March 1992 and the dance remixes commissioned for three of the album tracks.

‘Stoned And Dethroned’ saw the light of day in August 1994 and was to be the band’s last release on major label Blanco Y Negro. Originally conceived as an acoustic album, it didn’t end up that way, the band claiming they did not have enough ideas to fill it, but it remains one of their quieter, more reflective recordings. This was the first time the Reid brothers wrote separately, with William the main contributor, though there isn’t much separating the two in style. ‘Sometimes Always’, in which Jim Reid duets with Hope Sandovel of Mazzy Star, became their bigest ever American hit while just missing the top twenty in the UK, though the second single ‘Come On’ is more satisfying, especially in its beefed-up single mix. The new package includes the pre-album ‘The Sound Of Speed EP’ with the classic ‘Snakedriver’, BBC radio sessions and interviews with Jim and William. The videos are accompanied by tracks from Later With Jools Holland and live MTV takes.

Returning to where they had started, the band’s final album was released by Creation Records in June 1998, a seventeen track double album that revealed the growing cracks in the band. William recorded with the band when Jim was absent from the studio and Jim recorded when William wasn’t there. When William wrote ‘I Hate Rock ‘n’ Roll’, Jim countered with ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’. Both became singles and both were brilliant, Jim’s track decorated with horns and William’s with scorching guitars, and both sounding as if they tipped a hat to the Boo Radleys. Peaking at No.47, this was the only one of the band’s albums not to make the top forty, the previous six (including two compilations) having made the top twenty. With the demise of Creation not long after the album’s release, this has been on the fringes of becoming a lost album; though they had done better, it is raw and biting and certainly well worth a listen The new package features previously unreleased material from the BBC archives including a 1998 radio session and a live set recorded at the Electric Ballroom. The DVD features the previously unreleased promo videos for all the singles alongside a rarely seen TV performance of two songs on Later With Jools Holland.

Six albums, eighteen discs and hours of entertainment for under fifty quid. These are comprehensive packages from one of the most iconic bands in music history and well done to Rhino for all the hard work in getting them together. Just buy them: they don’t make them like this anymore.


*Jim Reid, notes to 'Psychocandy'.


honey's dead
stopned and dethroned
mary chain
upside down
never understand
some candy talking
i hate rock n roll