The last time I was looking forward to anything by the Jesus and Mary Chain, I was entrenched in the labyrinthine confines of the Sony Music tower on Madison Avenue, sorting through a bevy of incandescent file folders containing publicity shots of Epic artists like Living Colour and Sun-60, and replacing them with the likes of 3T and Shudder To Think. In the midst of this spring cleaning—and this being the time just prior to the Mary Chain’s swan song, Munki, I asked a co-worker how a group like the Mary Chain managed to stay on a major for as long as they did. “They sell about 100,000 copies of every album they put out,” he said.
Besides a string of consistently thrilling records, it’s a plausible reason why these Scottish malcontents remained in the Warners Bros. stable for over a decade. But by 1999, the Reid Brothers imploded and were gone. William Reid has now all but vanished, with a few releases (most under the Lazycame moniker) and a recording or two with his sister, while brother Jim released as much with his band Freeheat, which severed ties in 2003.
So what is Back on the Water? It’s a Freeheat compilation of live and studio tracks that, at its best, is a fuzzy little trip down memory lane. The studio tracks were recorded as far back as 1997 and the album contains 10 live tracks, recorded in Amsterdam shortly before the band parted ways. All well and good, but if you are a Mary Chain fan you already know that Jim Reid has a new single out (a rockier live version of “Dead End Kids” is contained here) and all of his former band’s full lengths with Warners just got the reissue treatment. So the question is: How much do you need this record?
It depends. Water initially sounds like a natural progression from the last Mary Chain record—while projecting a more coherent and jazzy pop sensibility—but really, it’s a grab bag of sorts, a lot like the Mary Chain’s Hate Rock ‘N’ Roll. So if you were digging that mid-‘90s release, you will definitely be digging this. Elsewhere, it’s a mix between the devil-may-care torch songs that made up 1994’s Stoned & Dethroned (check out the title track or the irresistible “Don’t Look Back”) and assertive, nihilistic rock songs reminiscent of 1989’s Automatic. “Get On Home” even contains the tongue-in-cheek line: “I got pistol in my pocket / It’s gonna shoot its load … You gotta help with my pistol before my pistol explodes”. This may scream horrible metal band-era innuendo, but the end result is just so effortlessly cool. Just like ice cream sliding into a crack.
Let’s be honest. Lyrically and musically, there might be nothing new here at all. And at 17 tracks, it has some filler, including studio and live versions of two tracks. But a good portion of Water will no doubt tease your endorphin receptors the way all those great Mary Chain songs did. Go out and by all the DualDisc reissues, but don’t deny this record’s charm.