Although it might be difficult to comprehend now, the Jesus And Mary Chain was a total revelation when it appeared amid the ocean of dull-yet-worthy indie pop that made up so much of the mid-’80s British music scene. Initially greeted with hate and bile, 1985 debut Psychocandy wasn’t so much a breath of fresh air as it was a speed- and booze-addled belch of intent.
Looking back, brothers Jim and William Reid had it all: great name, great look, a truckload of attitude and, most important, a sound that’s been ripped off and assimilated by a thousand other less-talented bands. But what a sound: the Velvet Underground, Suicide, the Stooges, ’60s girl groups, Phil Spector and the Beach Boys, all mixed up and seemingly recorded in a tin can on a budget of $3.50 by a studio engineer under the influence of wine and animal tranquilizers, then swamped by white noise and migraine-inducing shards of feedback. It wasn’t especially clever, it certainly wasn’t pretty, but by God, it was effective.
A sprawling, four-CD boxed set of patented Scottish misanthropic leeriness, The Power Of Negative Thinking is a mirror history of the Reid brothers’ entire career. It shows them to be essentially a one-trick rock ’n’ roll pony, offering endless variations of fuzz-toned glory or contemplative, “Sunday Morning”-era Velvets melancholic rapture. It’s a trick that they honed, at times, to perfection. There are acoustic interludes aplenty here, illustrating that the Reids could actually play and they were sentimental fools at the best of times. It also illustrates their good taste in covers, including reductionist takes on the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA,” Howlin’ Wolf’s “Little Red Rooster,” Leonard Cohen’s “Tower Of Song” and a perfect version of Smokey Robinson’s “My Girl” that’s utterly devoid of cheap irony and spite. Plus, it spotlights their influence on My Bloody Valentine, the entire shoegaze movement and any aspirant bunch of Britpop wannabe hoodlums with attitude to spare, not to mention the latter-day likes of the Raveonettes and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
The Power Of Negative Thinking is a weighty, absorbing, often hugely entertaining and occasionally thrilling curio. JAMC completists will love it, but four CDs’ worth? If you’re seriously considering investing in this, you really should get out more. Bonus material: New interviews with the Reids, rare photos and a poster featuring a Pete Frame family tree. [www.rhino.com]