In 1989, a ragtag group of British skate-punks calling themselves Jesus Jones released an indie album full of guitars and samples called Liquidizer. No one much paid attention. Two years later, in 1991, the same band released its second album. This one was called Doubt. It contained “Right Here, Right Now”, a song that bullied the American pop charts and pretty much defined the summer of that year.
People noticed that one.
Never mind that the band is now almost universally regarded as a one-hit wonder, that the three albums following Doubt are all-but-unheard of, and that one of those albums, Already, is so hard to find that you sometimes have to order it from Japan. Never mind all that, I say again.
Jesus Jones is my goddamned sonic nirvana.
More so than any Velvets recording, any Zeppelin, any Mary Chain, any anything, I revere the God-almighty Jesus Jones. I’ve got VHS tapes, bootlegs, posters and t-shirts. I’ve worn out copies of albums on cassette and had to replace them. I even belong to not one, but two Jesus Jones mailing lists (the official and the near official). Doubt, as much as a cop-out of commercialism as it seems on my part, is my musical Bible.
So what makes Jesus Jones so goddamned special? I could go on about the interplay between the band members, how they lock together like Lego blocks on every note. I could talk about the seamlessly perfected fusion of rock and techno, and how the heavy bass bottom is the crème to the lemon meringue of the guitars. I could even tell you how lead singer/guitarist Mike Edwards’ voice is the most soulful sound to come out of rock since John Lennon sang “Dear Prudence” in 1968.
But I won’t get into all that. I mean, bands like the Cure and the Happy Mondays were perfecting the same formula in their own ways long before Jesus Jones entered the scene. Besides, to take apart what the band is is like taking apart a cake and trying to explain why each part tastes so good with the others. It’s like asking why the Rolling Stones were such a great band. Sure, Keith Richards is a great songwriter, but if he had fronted, say, the Animals, would he Animals have been a better band than what they were? It’s not technical; you either hear it, or you don’t. When you listen to a great Stones tune, it spans time. It’s almost like hearing it for the first time, and at that moment, the tune is totally fresh, new and exciting.
Same way with Jesus Jones. Why else does everyone recognize the band as the one who played “Right Here, Right Now”? But that track isn’t the only song the album has to offer, by far. Doubt‘s leadoff track, “Trust Me”, is a thick blast of wall-of-noise guitar and deep acid-house groove. The rest of the album drops the wall-of-noise for chiming guitars and Beatle-esque melodies. “Who? Where? Why” incorporates Eastern melodies into its low-end thump and optimistic, turn-of-the-‘90s guitar flourishes. “Welcome Back, Victoria” is technology as country-western (or is that vice-versa?) as an infuriatingly genius acoustic guitar riffs over washes of synths and the steady “tick-tick-tick” of a programmed snare. “International Bright Young Thing” is a tour de force of British techno pop, a wonderment of armchair poetry and a study manual for guitar/technology integration. And the production, for what it’s worth, is the best I’ve heard on any album before or since—crisp, heavy, clear and perfect.
There’s no objectivity where art is concerned, so me sitting here and arguing the merits of Jesus Jones—a band that may or may not be one-hit wonders—is moot. I mean, millions of consumers hit the counters every day and shell out good cash for Britney Spears and Shakira albums. Years ago, it was New Kids on the Block. Before that, there was David Cassidy. Do all those people make bad music? Not to the people who buy their albums, they don’t.
So—why do I think Doubt is such a great album?
Because more than any of the other Jesus Jones albums—more than any other album, period—it makes me feel different. It makes me feel like the world is different. It makes me feel something I’ve never felt before. And it makes me feel that art doesn’t have to be an obscure thing to be great; often, it’s right in front of your face. Even more often, art is just whatever you like. When Mike Edwards hits that chiming, descending guitar riff at the beginning of “International Bright Young Thing”, I think he’s a god. When he starts singing the chorus, I think he’s damned omnipotent. Others may think he’s a talentless hack with a sequencer. Well . . . whatever. I’m here to say, if Jesus Jones pooped in a cardboard cup, I’d buy it.
And then I’d leave it on the naysayer’s doorstep in a flaming paper bag.
// Notes from the Road
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