I’ve been listening to the Jesus and Mary Chain’s new four-disc box of B-sides and rarities, The Power of Negative Thinking. I’m nowhere near in a place to make grand pronouncements on the set, but while listening to the first disc, I understood why the British press saw them as the next Sex Pistols in 1984. Much of the first disc presents an assault on pop music as radical as the Pistols, if not more so. Squalls of high pitched feedback threatened to bury the pop composition at the track’s core, but the feedback’s the easy part to hear. The Reid Brothers also drained all the passion and personality out of the performance, creating music far more industrial than anything most so-called industrial bands were creating.
It was as hard for the Chain to stay in that place as it was for Mach I punk bands; you can only say NO so long before, whether you want to or not, you say yes to something. By disc two’s cover of “Who Do You Love?” you can hear a glam rock ‘n’ roll band coming together. The minimal drums are replaced by a metallic drum machine, and the feedback is more controlled and pitched a little lower. Most importantly, the singing Reid brother – I’m not sure which one it is – starts to evince some personality, and while he’d never be Freddie Mercury, he’d never be truly deadpan again.