Makes You Want to Feel: The Jesus and Mary Chain's "Head On"

Though not from the Mary Chain's most acclaimed album, 1989's "Head On" is one of the band's better offerings, a classic example of how the proper amount of attitude can elevate a song.

Yes, Psychocandy is far and away the Jesus and Mary Chain's best album; there's no disputing that. None of the records Jim and William Reid have put out in the nearly 30 years since that LP's release have quite matched that record's almost primitive appeal, a result of its jarring yet alluring juxtaposition of honey-sweet melodies and a nigh-unyielding cacophonous roar of white noise. It's been argued that the band's creative downfall has been its efforts to tidy itself out, actions which completely miss the point of what's appealing about its best music.

On its surface, the 1989 single "Head On" shouldn't be my favorite Mary Chain number. The lack of layers of feedback reveal the band is peddling a rather straightforward arrangement; the most noticeable bursts of guitar noise are in the form of a '50s-style riff William Reid trots out between verses. More unpalatable to my sensibilities is the song's reliance on synth bass and a drum machine, utilized to make up for the Reids' lack of a full group at that stage. The synthetic rhythmic section robs the Mary Chain of much-needed thrust, and though I'm partial to dated-sounding synth bass in choice contexts, the most unflattering task it can be made to do in my opinion is to pound out strict root-note eighth notes. Which is exactly what happens on this track.

So why do I love "Head On" so much? Chalk it all up to the attitude, my friends. I place so-called rock 'n' roll attitude low on my list of musical priorities (all the posturing in the world means nothing to me if your melodies are weak and your riffs suck), but here Jim Reid has his hooks in me from the first word go with the understated yet utterly self-assured way he delivers his lyrics. Simply put, on "Head On" Reid sounds like the coolest guy on the planet, tossing off killer lines like "The way I feel tonight / Oh I could die and I wouldn't mind" with laconic confidence. Even when the guitars do roar at the climax of each chorus, Jim Reid steals his brother's thunder, first with "I can't stand up / I can't cool down / I can't get my head off the ground", and then "I take myself to the dirty part of town / Where all my troubles can be found". Where depending on the occasion Reid's detachment as a frontman can convey everything from mannered distance to hostile indifference, on "Head On" his stance places him as the deserved center of attention, an unwavering oasis of rockstar calm around which the rest of the song orbits around.

Funny enough, the Pixies' noisier and more energetic take on "Head On" from 1991 doesn't pack the same wallop. That's because in the process of seemingly correcting the track's deficiencies the Pixies lost sight of what makes the Mary Chain original so appealing in the first place. On their version, the Reids didn't have to come out guns blazing to grab your attention. On an album consider something of a dark horse in the band's catalog, there's four minutes where the Mary Chain stop mucking about and plant two feet firmly in the ground, look me dead in the eyes, and say dead serious stuff like "The world could die in pain / And I wouldn't feel no shame" in the confidence that I will flinch first. The Mary Chain sells that attitude completely in this noise pop classic, and that's enough to make me forgive the synth bass.

Kuinka appeal to ornery Renaissance royalty with a joyous song in their infectiously fun new music video.

With the release of Americana band Kuinka's Stay Up Late EP earlier this year, the quartet took creative steps forward to deftly expand their sound into folk-pop territory. Riding in on the trend of moves made by bands like the Head and the Heart and the National Parks in recent years, they've traded in their raw roots sound for a bit more pop polish. Kuinka has kept the same singalong, celebratory vibe that they've been toting all this time, but there was a fork in the sonic highway that they boldly took this go-around. In this writer's opinion, they succeeded in once again captivating their audience, just in a respectably newfound way.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.