Arguably The Jesus and Mary Chain’s most underrated album, “Automatic” released in 1989, sees Jim and William Reid take a progressive leap into a bluesy, electro-infused sub-genre, producing a more synthetic, metallic and mutating sound. Still in keeping with their signature murky, distorted, noise-pop riffs, “Automatic” sees Jim and William make good use of technology, replacing the drums with a drum machine and a synthesizer on bass guitar. Criticised at the time for taking this route, “Automatic” is testament to what can be achieved when the band members are down and when you utilised the musical resources available. Long before the digital revolution took off “Automatic” benchmarks the late 80s noise-pop, shoegazing, synth-rock, whilst tilting towards industrial rock which would become so prevalent in the 90s.
Whilst members of The Jesus and Mary Chain have come and gone, what has been consistent is the sheer brilliance of those Reid brothers. In particular with Jim, here you have a front man, whose shy, intelligent, introspective persona has given him plenty of sex appeal, without really trying. Despite making misery into an art-form, Jim, the reluctant goth-god, has always conveyed a grounded, down-to-earth appeal, which has kept him in tune with his fan base. Apart from his melancholic vocals, what’s intriguing about Jim is how those vocals often morphed into a paradox of pain and pleasure, making it unclear whether he is in ecstasy or torture.
Just listening to the first track “Here Comes Alice”, you hear how that sluggish bass conveys the lethargic energy that synchronises with Jim’s sullen vocals, which soon gets energised by the oscillating and zig-zag riffs. It’s a great opener which showcases those sonic beats and resonating lyrics. Lyrics such as: “Some things are hard to say, even though you’d say them every day…” encapsulates the essence of the song, whilst the out-tro wails “Oh here she comes, here she comes”, laying bare the emotions of the song, taking you into darker and tortured depths.
With its reverberating bass, pulsating beats and gritty, solid riffs “Coast to Coast” races across a hard-rock highway, before swerving towards a shrieking, semi-shoegazing horizon. It’s an accelerated song, which sees The Jesus and Mary Chain dabble with more an industrial sound, with its metallic thuds and underlay of droning riffs.
“Blues From a Gun”, kick-starts with tighter, heavier and more robust riffs that pound against Jim’s brooding, sexed up tones. Along with its jittery, sonic beats, “Blues From a Gun” stomps at a formidable force, allowing the intensity to seep through the hedonistic and tortured lyrics. It’s after the assault of angular, shrieking riffs that Jim’s vocals become more laconic, repeating the lyrics: “Well I guess that’s why I’ve always got the blues…” cementing “Blues From a Gun”, very much as an introspective, bluesy-rock song.
With its pounding and up-tempo beats,“Between Planets” is a fast mover, whose drums and guitars collide and stagger in unison. It’s also a song whose interchanging riffs, slide, rotate and ascend against the raw, heartfelt vocals. With lyrics such as: “Baby you drive me crazy. Don’t come around here no more…”, “Between Planets” is drenched in sorrow and angst, whilst remaining a cohesive and sinewy rock song.
“UV Ray” swaggers and preens with a sexed-up nonchalance, uprooting its bluesy-rock backdrop and disrupting it with scrapey drones and metallic clatter. It’s an unhinged, chaotic song, whose fierce vocals become entangled in the screechy, mesh of distorted riffs. Along with its flutter of sonic beats and crashing riffs, “UV Ray” once again illustrates how The Jesus and Mary Chain’s shoegazing, noise pop mutates towards an industrial infused sound.
Again, “Her Way of Praying” rolls with a laid-back swagger and reverberates with an erotic undertone. With its crunchy and angular riffs, “Her Way of Praying” builds to crescendo, creating a weighty and brooding backdrop, for this cool and collected song. With its sexually evocative lyrics, “Her Way of Praying” illustrates The Jesus and Mary Chain’s penchant for that provocative, edgy song, which is subtlety hypnotic, whilst keeping you awake with its ascending and descending riffs.
“Head On” is fuelled by the emotionally driven vocals of Jim, whose powerful lyrics are delivered with such angst it could almost be an anthem for youth and all its misery. Lyrics such as: “And the way I feel tonight, I could die and I wouldn’t mind. And there’s something going on inside”, contains an authenticity which leaks and resonates against the sonic beats and the curling, loitering, crashing riffs.
With Jim’s aroused-singed vocals, “Take it” slithers with a subtle undercarriage of subtle eroticism which is obscured by the pandemonium of droning, shrieking and choppy riffs. One of “Automatics” more oblique tracks, “Take it” submerges itself into a mass of guitar interludes, which are then eclipsed by the cinematic and drum infested out-tro. Customised by film-dialogue, “Take it”’s out-tro illustrates the band’s innovation, long before U2 used this formula during their 1992/93 Zoo TV Tour.
“Halfway to Crazy” is saturated in angst and melancholy and whose raw vocals once again resonate against the sloping and bending riffs. Its opening lyrics: “Crazy I’m halfway to crazy, suicide could save me. Oh is that much too extreme, it’s such a sad and sorry scene…” set the tone captures the heartfelt emotions of the song. Despite the array of fleeting preening riffs, upbeat drums and euphoric synths, “Halfway to Crazy” broods in darkness, intensified through the skittish out-tro, exasperated by the lyrics: “I’m going crazy, I’m going crazy...”
“Gimme Hell” prowls with more menacing tones across a more opaque and dirtier soundscape. With Jim’s tortured vocals and smog of crunchy and noise-pop distorted riffs, “Gimme Hell” crashes and broods in all its hazy mist. Lyrically provocative “Gimme Hell” cuts to the sinister core with lines such as: “So come on little sugar let me get your soul. Dig deep crazy like a success show…”. Along with its taunting dual backing vocals, “Gimme Hell” is also sexed up through the distant drones and up-stepping riffs, building the song to its inebriated crescendo.
“Drop” is the album’s most stripped down song, whose acoustic riffs and sweeping synths provide the musical backdrop for this heart-felt song. Simplistically crafted “Drop” see’s Jim delivering the metaphorical lyrics in more tender and softer tones. With reference to Christianity, lyrics such as “Til kingdom comes, and through bitten tongues” reveal yet again the bands emotional depth and underrated skill at song writing.
With its abandoned vocals and chaotic soundscape,“Sunray” is like a dumping ground for all those built up and festering emotions of the album. Indulging in a flutter of sonic beats, and assault of shoegazing, noise-pop and zig-zag riffs, “Sunray” antagonises and wallows in torture with all that bona-fide, signature angst.
(Released September 1989)