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More "Sunday Morning" than "Sister Ray" - A 5 star review
on 20 May 2004
Even though anything and everything that the Reid brothers produce will be forever over shadowed by their 1986 debut album "Psycho Candy", I feel that they went one better with the 1987 follow up "Dark Lands".
Even though "Psycho Candy" was a great album, the song writing tended to get lost underneath the impenetratable sheets of feedback that were so central to the album's sound. There are no such problems on "Dark Lands", the dissonant, Sonic Youth-style guitar noise that was so prevelant on "Psycho Candy" is largely absent, allowing the Reid's love of the melodic and gift for melody to shine through. Their debt to the Velvet Underground is not as over bearing as it was on "Psycho Candy", and the Velvet Underground influences on "Dark Lands" hark back to songs like "Sunday Morning" and "There She Goes Again" rather than the primal, proto-punk noise of "White Light/White Heat". On this album, the Reid brothers draw from a wider range of influences and this is immediately apparent from the melodic opening of the lead, title track. The song "Dark Lands" is driven by a melodic bass line and acoustic guitar on the verses before exploding into a melodic, but noisy and distorted, guitar-driven chorus. It reveals a greater understanding of melody than most of "Psycho Candy" did, and the chorus hangs around dead pan delivery of "do, do, do, dooh", similar to Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side".
Far from all sounding the same, as "Psycho Candy" did, "Dark Lands" sounds distinctly different from track to track. "Deep One Perfect Morning" sounds very much like early period Velvet Underground, and "Nine Million Rainy Days" laces a poppy melody with freeze dried, gothic vocals and a dark, brooding backing track. It is this diversity of influences that makes "Dark Lands" more interesting than "Psycho Candy" or any of their other albums for that matter. However, it is still possible to trace this album back to "Psycho Candy", with "Fall" sounding like "Psycho Candy" would have done without all those extra layers of feedback.
Lyrically, most of the songs are about love but not in the traditional sense. It is a kind of love were the people involved know that it will all end in tears and know that they don't deserve one another. A very gothic take on a traditional song writers topic. Like the music, the vocal melodies on this album are not as indebted to the Velvet Underground as they were on "Psycho Candy", with the melody to "Fall" sounding very much like REM during their IRS years. The singles "April Skies" and "Happy When it Rains" are quintessential '80s indie songs, the former a downbeat, world weary pop song that comes across as what Tears For Fears would have sounded like if they had traded in their synthesizers for guitars, and the latter is a catchy upbeat pop song that lies somewhere between the melodic noise of the Pixies and the jangly guitar pop of the Smiths and the Wedding Present.
So there you go. I am someone who is pretty difficult to please and doesn't give out 5 star reviews that often any more. I used to, and so a lot of my older reviews mean little to nothing... but this is no such review. "Dark Lands" is the best record the Jesus & Mary Chain ever released, not as noisy as "Psycho Candy" and not as dance influenced as "Honey's Dead". Buy it if you want to hear a great collection of songs that are interesting but conventional, loud but melodic and clever but simple... you could do a lot worse!