Monday, 14 September 2009

Holy Moly

As I've already said I got into the Pastels by hearing them praised by another group that I really liked. There's a very good chance that group was the Jesus and Mary Chain. There was a time when my musical diet consisted almost exclusively of the Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine and Spacemen 3. Feedback and distortion was my thing. As much as I loved the Pastels if you'd have suggested to me that they would record better versions of Mary Chain songs I'd have laughed in your face, or possibly punched you. But this is now what has come to pass.

The Mary Chain. How many times has it happened to you that you discover a band, work your way through their immaculate back catalogue and then await their next new release in a state of ecstatic apprehension? Only for the new album to be very poor indeed? "Automatic", there I've said it - let us speak no more of it. At the height of my admiration for them I was probably listening to "Psychocandy" at least once a day, and this state of affairs went on for a year or so. After "Psychocandy" was "Barbed Wire Kisses" (shocking name) - arguably their best collection of songs, but, like "Hatful of Hollow" do you count this kind of thing as a real album? And then we have "Darklands". All the songs on "Darklands" are great - "Nine Million Rainy Day" was my personal favourite - but most are let down by the production/execution, the main offender being "April Skies" on which we cop for the full horror of the Mary Chain's baffling predilection for drum machines. Generally their sound, previously so unlike anything else, becomes well and truly mired in the eighties that they had seemed destined to destroy. The Pastel's version of "About You" shows what might have been. I don't know if the Mary Chain are going to release new stuff, but before they do they should go back and record "Darklands" properly.

Lyrically though I think "Darklands" is their best album with the usual caveat that I haven't seriously listened to anything after "Honey's Dead" and with the definite exception of the line about the Christmas tree in "Fall". Oh, and the mole line in "On The Wall". Hmm, I'm not making a brilliant case here - but "Deep One Perfect Morning" and "Happy When It Rains" both display an articulate thoughtfulness which always came across in the interviews but not previously in the songs.

The Mary Chain's own record with cover versions is hit and miss. Not surprisingly their earlier attempts are the best with the very best being the legendary "Vegetable Man" (I don't get Pink Floyd's scruples on this - it's the best thing Syd Barrett ever wrote). The joy of owning the 7" of "Upside Down" is considerable in its own right, and just for this song, very necessary. Is it just me or has the version to be found on "The Power of Negative Thinking" (another crap album title by the way) been neutered somewhat? I think they've pushed the vocal right up.

"Who Do You Love" and "Mushroom" are also both outstanding but after them we move onto the merely okay "Reverberation" and "Tower of Song" before arriving at "Little Red Rooster". My favourite band covering one of my favourite songs - how could it go so badly wrong? It did and this point probably marks my final disappointment with them. I heard about their version of "Alphabet Street" and it occurred to me that it was misguided, and when I caught up with it this was confirmed, the sureness of touch shown on "Who Do You Love" and "Mushroom" is utterly gone.

The Pastels: About You

Jesus & Mary Chain: Nine Million Rainy Days


  1. Automatic is indeed pish, I remember buying it on the day of release getting it home, playing it and being totally distraught. Playing it again and it didn't get any better. I think that I may have played it a total of 10 times since. The album which I've just pulled out looks immaculate that's how often it's been played.
    Disagree with you about Darklands, always thought it was wonderful aand loved the not totally surprising change in sound judging by the previous Peel Sessions. (I'm pretty sure Darklands came out before BWK?)
    Their version of My Girl has to be one of their best covers.
    Saw the Pastels a fortnight ago in Glasgow and was totally underwhelmed by them. Seen them on a few ocassions before but i was just bored by them the other week, sadly.

  2. Hello Drew,

    I’d been meaning to write something about the JAMC since your post a while back – the Pastels track just came along and got me started. I do like "Darklands" and “About You” is one of the better songs on the album – but I still think it’s too clean sounding and that’s where the Pastels version wins. It was all retrospective to me at the time but you’re of course right, "Darklands" did come out before BWK, I just meant that I listened to BWK a lot more.

    I’d forgotten about their version of “My Girl” – it’s okay but too straight to really do anything for me. Funny you should pick that one though, I remember reading somewhere how “Happy When It Rains” was an inversion of “My Girl” (“you were my sunny day rain”). While I might have put the boot in a bit on their covers history it says a lot about the Mary Chain that no one has ever convincingly covered any of their songs. “Head On” by the Pixies is the best but it was a poor song in the first place.