Ben Winch's Album Review
Contentious assertion: the JAMC, not the Smiths, were the Rolling Stones of the eighties. (Did Johnny Marr love Keith Richards? Sure. Did he play like him? Not at all.) Contentious assertion #2: Barbed Wire Kisses (the Mary Chain’s Hatful of Hollow) is their masterpiece, not Darklands (too fey, too by-the-numbers), not Psychocandy (too smothered in dirt). Contentious assertion #3: William Reid is king. Exhibit A: “Sidewalking”, peak of their pop/avant thing, and a more even balance of those ethoses than Sonic Youth, say, ever conceived. Made it to #8 on the UK charts in ’88. That’s some phenomenon. In terms of their benevolent/provocative effect on mass culture, you ask me, it’s their high-water mark. And yeah, Jim’s vocal is bitchin’, but check William’s feedback symphony on the 12-inch. Rarely if ever has pop been so brutal. Exhibit B: “Just Out of Reach”, as above. Abrasive surf-noise, set to propulsive Roland drumbeat. I’ve never heard this on a dancefloor, but if I did I’d be channelling my inner Lizard King. “Rider”, “Here it Comes Again”, “Who Do You Love?” continue in the vein, with William fronting 2-out-of-3 of ’em. But you don’t dig William’s Billy idol routine? Wanna taste of Darklands romanticism? “Don’t Ever Change”. Major-key pop? “Happy Place”. Slowcore proto Mazzy Star? “Psycho Candy”. Thing is, Barbed Wire Kisses has got some of everything—every trick, technique or mood the brothers would continue to use for all of four more (you ask me) lacklustre albums. Check out “Head” and its mutant brothers “Hit” and “Cracked” for Psychocandy’s dark shadows. Listen to ’em in that order and witness as rock gets deconstructed, melody and lyrics are discarded and William tests the bottom of his range. By “Cracked” we’re in the pink room from Fire Walk With Me, wishing for subtitles until William starts howling four-letter words over a whirlwind of guitar feedback. It’s wild! To top it, “On the Wall”, the analogue 4-track demo, shows another side of the man: heart-on-sleeve wordsmith and Cure/New Order fan. Hell, much as I dig Jim, William Reid could be the most lovable man in eighties pop. Yet where else do we hear so much of him? Conspiracy by Jim and WEA to keep the darker, less predictable brother down; or just that he’d conjure this shit on the spot as the clock rolled for the end of the session, the single cut already and only the b-side up for grabs? Whatever, its lucky they coralled so much William into one place, because he makes Barbed Wire Kisses. (Props to Jim for “Upside Down”, by the way, but I’ll take the demo version. These boys knew how to ride a 4-track!) To me, the Mary Chain burnt brightly and briefly—like Joy Division, like Slint, like Nirvana. Three albums were enough. If you don’t know Barbed Wire Kisses, you don’t know the story.