the jesus and mary chain
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Alastair McKay / NME
Glasgow Barrowlands

Things have indeed come to a pretty pass. Unfortunate timing allows a glimpse of the much vaunted pop delight they call The Vaselines. Another group pretending to be a Group, they throw in the towel with a purposefully crappy cover of Gary Glitter's 'I Didn't Know I Loved You Till I Saw You Rock'N'Roll' which, while reeking with ironic intent, lacks several vital ingredients, not least the brilliant guitar and drum sound, and glam's supersonic sense of camp knowingness. For both the band and the audience it's just a laugh of course, an expensive and hollow one perhaps, but the idea is that we are all in on the joke.

Which, with what might just have been a cover of Chris Spedding's 'Motorbiking' brings us onto the cheezers and airyplanes. Rumours of newfound live slickness were obviously exaggerated, with half of tonight's songs needing two, even three attempts to get started. Fragile things, songs. Take them out of their warm studio environment and if you're not careful they just fall apart. So, in a contemptuous egalitarian stumble through their back catalogue it's goodbye to the Spector stylings and hello to an all encompassing whey-faced grunge. 'Just Like Honey' died on a drumbeat after 30 seconds and it's all the ill-rehearsed lads can do to stroke it back to life. It's rock Jim, but not as we know it, with only 'I'm Happy When It Rains' (second attempt) surviving the transposition and retaining some fig leaves of melody and a vaguely spunky delivery.

Musically the only innovation, other than studied incompetence, is the eerie absence of rhythm. At best the drums, which aren't even on speaking terms with the bass, sound like a pram being pushed down the stairs - presumably an Eistenstein reference - and at the risk of sounding like Noel Coward, there's precious few tunes around to make up for this shortfall. Where once the Beach Boys scampered the Mary Chain sulk, stripping the joy from rock's best moments and adding nothing but sallow disdain.

The live show, such as it is, consists largely of a few mikestand twirls and some moody lighting which sends long shadows cross the stage. The brief introduction of a stroboscope fails to cause amazement because the boys move in slow motion anyway, offering not a word of introduction or thanks all night. What showmen they are - working with the enthusiasm of malcontented YTS trainees and trying to look like they just don't care. In Willie Whitelaw's words they are stirring up apathy, a difficult task at the best of times, but one to which the Chain's attitude is ideally suited. The highlight, and the one moment of real danger, comes with the emission of loud electrical crackles which offer the (sadly unrequited) promise of onstage electrocutions.

Of course the Americans do this sort of thing so much better. As the Mary Chain mumble, the collected cookie jars of Andy Warhol are fetching record sums in a New York auction room. Pop, it seems, is destined to follow art at a distance of two decades, allowing the Chain to take credit for a state of heightened disposability which shoud have become old hat along with paintings of Campbell's soup tins. Like The Vaselines they are a parody of a pop group singing parodies of songs, the peak of their creative abilities being the disposable love line "I'll be your plastic toy". In New York they call it trash, but over here it's just plain old rubbish, even by the dullbrained artistic standards of the rock world. Of course, the real irony here, and the one which will give the boys their 'kicks' - is that the sulkier they get, the more records they well. Oh, the pain of it.

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