Nearly Perfect Albums #22

Cherry Came Too – Jesus and Mary Chain (1987, Blanco Y Negro Records)

I can I think almost picture the conversation.  Its late in the year 1986, The Jesus and Mary Chain are sitting in a dark room, its light outside but they’ve drawn the curtains obviously.  William looks at Jim and shrugs his shoulders and says “Where do we go now?”.

It would have been a good question.  How do you follow ‘Psychocandy’ a record so utterly perfect?  The answer was something of a surprise (possibly even to the band themselves I would wager), but ultimately in something almost as perfect.  As you might have guessed, ‘Darklands’ is the second best record that the Jesus and Mary Chain ever released, and they join a pretty select group who could have had more than one record in this list. 

‘Darklands’ is of course an entirely different beast to its predecessor, for a start it uses a drum machine instead of Bobby Gillespie’s tribal drumming.  They also turned down the noise, lost most of the gnarky attitude, stripped back the sound, embraced melody and made a bunch of pop songs.  They were, and remain an absolute joy.  Tracks like ‘Happy When It Rains’ and ‘April Skies’ are full of big jangly hooks and at the time were so cool, they were literally wearing a vintage leather jackets and some very dark shades.   They were moody but romantic but not in a sickly treacly way that perhaps other guitar bands from the 80s were guilty of.

Happy When It Rains – Jesus and Mary Chain (19987, Blanco Y Negro Records)

April Skies – Jesus and Mary Chain (1987, Blanco Y Negro Records)

‘April Skies’ of course blasted the band into the top 10 and the front cover of both the NME and Smash Hits (note to self – do a series on bands who have appeared on the cover of both Smash Hits and NME) – the latter of course called them “Noisy, spotty and weird”.   There is nothing weird, noisy and spotty about ‘April Skies’ or for that matter the gorgeous title track.  Both are pretty damn essential

Darklands – Jesus and Mary Chain (1987, Blanco Y Negro Records)

(And here just for interest is Fontaines D.C’s version, which is intriguingly wonderful)

The embracing of melody was to some extent a curveball from the Reid Brothers, because ‘Darklands’ is cluttered with it.  Even the songs that probably owe more to ‘Psychocandy’ than ‘Darklands’ are soaked in a pop mentality.  ‘Down on Me’ for instance, the echo-y vocals, the pained growls, all seen aplenty in the debut are all there, but underneath all of that, there is a killer riff that you expect to be drowned out in feedback but it isn’t and it positively glows because of it.  It would have sounded awful on ‘Psychocandy’ but here on ‘Darklands’ it sounds magnificent.

Down on Me – Jesus and Mary Chain (1987, Blanco Y Negro Records)

Nearly Perfect Albums #9

Dogrel – Fontaines DC

In 2019, guitar music was dying.  In 2018 it had only just survived a ten round battle with the newly invigorated hip hop scene when it decided to try and keep pace in a sprint round the block with the new raft of Autotuned robotic pop princes and princesses the big hit factory around the block kept churning out one after another.   Another battle ensued, but this time the result was more definite, guitar music got its asses kicked.

And so in 2019, we find a slew of guitar bands, sitting in the gutter, with their heads in their hands, their jeans all torn, their noses bloody, their faces dirty and tear stained and their guitars smashed in the corners, and not because they were showing off on stage, this is because they didn’t need them anymore, you don’t play guitar whilst working in McDonalds.  The future looked bleak and guitar music was just about to crown Rag n Bone Man as its new leader when from over the hill, five men with a Fugazi obsession slowly wandered into view.  The reinforcements, it seemed had arrived……

‘Dogrel’ by Fontaines D.C arrived at exactly the right moment.  It swaggered into sight, their singer (one Grian Chatten) spouting lyrics about how he is ‘gonna be big’ with such a determined sneer not seen since Liam Gallagher first shadow boxed onto a stage and told everyone he was the Walrus.  In seconds the boys with their guitars nodded and believed him.

Big – Fontaines D.C (2019, Partisan Records, Taken from ‘Dogrel’)

Its not just the determination that stands out in this record, it’s the authenticity and the striking images that it paints in your mind. Take ‘Sha Sha Sha’ for instance – which despite being an almost too obvious ‘Town Called Malice’ rip off tells a wonderful story of that dark hour that takes place when the pub kicks you out – there is as Grian barks “always tears…”

Sha Sha Sha – Fontaines D.C (2019, Partisan Records, Taken from ‘Dogrel’)

Yes you get the indie anthems in the waiting, like the rousing call to arms of ‘Chequeless Reckless’ or the attention grabbing earworm-y wonder of ‘Hurricane Laughter’, tracks that most indie bands would wet the bed for just to have the chance to record.  But its those lyrically vivid songs that stand out on ‘Dogrel’ like the sentimental ‘Boys In The Better Land’ which takes aim at the Irish Tourist Board and the way that their city is portrayed.

Boys In The Better Land – Fontaines D.C (2019, Partisan Records, Taken from ‘Dogrel’)

However, we have to wait until the last track for this to really hammer itself home, in the brilliant album closer ‘Dublin City Sky’ a romantic old drinking tune, that is evocative and rich in its love for not just the city of Dublin, but its character past and present.  It’s a song that deliberately sounds like it belongs inside a busy Temple Bar Pub (or any other area of Dublin with a pub to be honest).  It’s a fantastic way to end a fantastically nearly perfect record.

Dublin City Sky – Fontaines D.C (2019, Partisan Records, Taken from ‘Dogrel’)