Monday, July 18, 2005

Knife to my head when she talks so sweetly

Continuing last week's discussion of "When My Boy Walks Down the Street," in the 69 Love Songs interview booklet, Stephin said that he intended the song to sound like the Three O'Clock. However, he admitted that it sounds more like the Jesus and Mary Chain, the glorious Scottish outfit known for their treble-heavy pop songs with piercing feedback, overdistorted guitars, and primitive drumbeats. The band centered around the brothers William and Jim Reid, and their debut single "Upside Down" from 1984 (available on the recommended compilation Barbed Wire Kisses), with its abrasive guitar sound bordering on white noise, was one hell of an entrance. Their first album, Psychocandy (cited on the list) is an undisputed classic with fourteen tracks following the style of "Upside Down." They toned down their approach for later efforts, leaving out the feedback, with mixed results, before breaking up in 1999.

In an interview with Elisabeth Vincentelli, Merritt said:
"I'm continually irritated by every record having the same production idea -- false realism. The only record of the last ten years that isn't trying to sound 'live' or 'real' (in an idealized form, since no recording is actually live) is the Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy."

Like Merritt, the Reid brothers admired particular 60s music figures like Phil Spector (his "Be My Baby" drumbeat was borrowed for three different songs on Psychocandy) and the Velvet Underground, whose White Light/White Heat album is a good point of reference. Looking through Merritt's songs in guitar tab form, one sees that he often embraces three-chord simplicity, an aesthetic to which the Jesus and Mary Chain also subscribe.

In this amusing anecdote, Merritt states (in his typically droll manner) "We disapprove of rock and Christianity, especially in combination." He also believes, as revealed in this article in the Advocate, that rock died twenty years ago with the Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy. Regarding a performance he witnessed in 1986, Merritt wrote in a Time Out New York article: "It was the last time anything new was going to happen in rock as such, and everyone knew it."

Despite the anti-rock stance, I'd say the Magnetic Fields did have a few rock songs. Well, two come to mind: "I'm Sorry I Love You," with its Bo Diddley rhythm, and the unrelenting loop song, "Famous." This week's first selection from Psychocandy is "Inside Me," a tune which bears several similarities to "Famous" with its noisy guitar washes and identical drum pattern. "Taste of Cindy" is a track that is essentially a bubblegum pop song, with blankets of fuzz attempting to subvert that notion.

The Jesus and Mary Chain - "Inside Me"
The Jesus and Mary Chain - "Taste of Cindy"


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