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Pop these painkillers

Music, as we all know even as we pretend to play dumb for tax purposes, plays around with the chemicals in our head. Some music keeps things in balance; some music keeps things in check.

music Updated: May 21, 2011 00:01 IST
Indrajit Hazra

Upside Down
The Jesus and Mary Chain
Music Club, Rs 395
Rating: **** 1/2


Music, as we all know even as we pretend to play dumb for tax purposes, plays around with the chemicals in our head. Some music keeps things in balance; some music keeps things in check. Then there is music that tips over the small buckets of joy-producing hormones into the tiny crevices in our brains, while another kind does the opposite, making us see with clarity the rut we’re in.

With the music centred around the inimitable duo of Jim and William Reid, professionally known as The Jesus and Mary Chain, torrents of endorphin — that over-the-counter-but-inside-the-head drug that’s produced in your brain during pain, while making out, eating spicy food, etc — rush out and crash on the beachline of your face. And the funny thing is that even though the music of the Brothers Reid vary from crashing walls of guitar feedback with a droll voice singing as if it’s nose-picking time, to a lilting tune that prefigures death or the end of a shag, essentially the Jesus and Mary Chain is the basement love-child of Gene Vincent-style rock’n’roll and Beatles-style pop. For confirmation, the new collection Upside Down: The Best of Jesus and Mary Chain is a great place to start for Jesus and Mary virgins.

For a band that’s been in the periphery of the mainstream and in the thick of the indie-circuit since 1983 (when indie actually meant not too many folks having heard the band, and not indie, as a genre in the iPod store menu), this raucous amphetamine-friendly group certainly sounds ravishingly contemporary. Go to ‘Blues from a gun’ on CD 1 of this double-album. The razor’s edge of the guitar and the whiplash of the drums are joined by the slithering drawl of Jim Reid. The serrated sound shoots up the basic rock’n’roll furnitured room as the song catalogues “why I’ve always/ got the blues”. Immediately after comes the shimmering Beach Boys-motivated drizzle sound of ‘Some candy talking’. But that’s just a cosmetic signpost that slips into a hair-raisingly delirious chorus: “Hey, hey, hey, she’s as mean as mean/ Hey, hey, hey, she’s as sick as sick/ Hey, hey, hey, she’s as cool as cool/ Hey, hey, hey, she’s as black as black/ Hey, hey, hey, I got to get her back.” Oh happiness, this is the soundtrack of quick, dirty, romanticised sex.

The ripple bass of ‘Sidewalking’ has the Glasgow boys playing Boyz n the hood with a slow, measured gait. The brilliant 1998 album, Munki, was washed aside because of the fag end of Brit Pop still ruling the air waves. So when you listen to ‘Cracking up’, its heavy guitar lines bending under William’s fingers as Jim’s voice drops all around like wet confetti, you realise how lucky you are now listening to it in the undisturbed room of 2011. Irony is galore in the seemingly sunnyside up, ‘I love rock’n’roll’, also from Munki. Extra doses of irony is jabbed in the track’s raucous dark-side half, ‘I hate rock’n’roll’ on CD 2.

Key tracks from their early albums — the 1985 debut Psycho Candy, Darklands (1987) and Automatic (1989) — are all here. Also, we have the pesky grandness of songs from Honey’s Dead (1992) and the unplugged-but-jammed-up Stoned and Dethroned (1994), not to mention from Munki (1998). Listen to the Buddy Holly-under-a-chainsaw track, ‘You trip me up’, a love song to be sure; or the rock’n’roll crash of

‘Rollercoaster’; or ‘Black’, a ballad that’s lost its urge, or.... You’ll get the picture.
If this collection doesn’t get the full five stars, it’s because it doesn’t have that blistering nugget, ‘Snakedriver’, a scraping song with grazing guitars that I first heard in The Crow soundtrack (1994), also available in the collection, The Sound of Speed. Jim starts that song with: “I’ve got syphilitic hetero friends in every part of town/ I don’t hate them but I know them I don’t want them hanging around/I won’t roll my bones for every little girl who gets on down/I got space and space got me I should be selling it by the pound/ Ever since I heard the voice I thought I had no choice/ but then I kissed her.” Yup. It’s a love song after my heart.