Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Jesus and Mary Chain – “Darklands” (The Single)

Every time I read a list of someone's Top 100 Singles, I have to wonder what my number one would be, and every time I choose "Darklands".

The song is the first song on the Jesus and Mary Chain album of the same name that came out in 1987.

Many fans thought their second album had sold out the sound of the feedback-drenched "Psychocandy".

I first heard "Psycocandy" at my friend Steve's. He had just returned from a holiday in London and was desperate to play it for me.

I'm embarrassed to say that I just didn't get it on the first play. It seemed to be no more than feedback and distortion. How wrong was I! Just like Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, feedback and distortion were just ingredients in a new vision of what music should sound like.

Once you listen through the apparent dissonance, you discover that the Jesus and Mary Chain are creators of pristine pop music at the level of both the Velvet Underground and the Ramones.

There is something both very complex and very simple going on at the same time.

"Darklands" starts with a simple lead guitar intro that is almost immediately shadowed by a drum beat that holds the song together like something Smoky Robinson could have written for Motown.

Each lead works up to considered, understated but somehow still slashing chords.

This conversation of alternating guitar styles winds its way through the song, and ultimately represents William's options, heaven and hell.

The most obvious of meanings of the song is that the Darklands are the world you enter when you're in a heroin-induced high.

William goes there to escape the real world. He wants to "talk in rhyme with my chaotic soul".

His motive is simple. Life means nothing, all things end in nothing, real life is chaos, but at least in the Darklands he gets to talk in rhyme with himself, as if he finds some beauty there.

Yet now he is held back from his quest. Perhaps he has O.D.'ed, perhaps he is doing cold turkey, perhaps he just can't afford his next hit.

Whatever the cause, he feels like he is dying, maybe dying to go to the Darklands.

The heaven he experiences in the Darklands is too close to hell. He feels like he could die, then he feels that he is dying, and finally he recognises that he is dying.

He is brought to his knees, pleading to go, but in his time of dying, as he confronts his own death, he recognises that he wants to stay more than he wants to go.

Ultimately, however, his survival instinct wakes him from his dreams and persuades him to stay.

It's not easy though. At the same time as he concludes he wants to stay, he starts off the final chorus by declaring he wants to go.

Another possible meaning is that William actually contemplates suicide in the song, but retreats from the precipice.

Either way, he has stared death in the face and lived to tell the tale.

Out of this drama, the Jesus and Mary Chain create an epic of subtle, but Phil Spector-like proportions.

Many of the things that appealed to me about the sound of the song are founded in the 60's: the drum beats, the instrumental call and response, the guitar crescendos, the doo doo doo's.

Unlike "Psychocandy", I had no doubt that I was witnessing pop music at its greatest, so much so that I can still listen to this song dozens of times in a row.

It took just one song on their second album to realise that this band could be king of all it surveyed. And I was happy while it reigned. Even now, I can close my eyes and pretend that the JAMC still do.

P.S. I still can't work out why "Just Like Honey" didn't have the same impact on me on first listen. It has many of the same 60's ingredients.

1 comment:

Alien said...

I totally agree with you on this one. I have always thought that "Darklands" was a better album than "Psychocandy".