the jesus and mary chain
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Unfinished Munki Business
Stephen Dalton / NME
The Jesus & Mary Chain
London King's Cross Water Rats

Three years away from the fray, denied the Mercury Prize, shunted off their major label deal and back in the bosom of Creation, can the Jesus army still rock?

Well, if the confident grooves of their forthcoming none-more-black album 'Munki' tell us anything, then yes. It's no major diversion from the formula, granted, but let's face it: the JAMC have always been about the same three mighty chord changes, two heroically waster gonks and one great idea. Elvis on a motorbike with JFK and Jesus heading for a candy-coated car crash baby oh yeah. Uh huh huh. JG Ballard in leather trousers or what?

Not so sure about this low-key second coming, though. With his rust-hued sports jacket and tight-lipped frown, Jim Reid is the Tony Parsons of apocalyptic sex-rock. Brother William is pervy Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar with a full Afro and sleepy grin. Their latest back-up band, meanwhile, features two Sleeperblokes plus one Lushbloke. Rock legends or not, this is an indie pub gig full of celebrity mates and media scum, sinking free drinks and secretly fearing the worst. Death metal Valhalla it is not.

'Degenerate' is the unassuming opener, a chunky chugger of dry-humping guitars in which Jim moans about feeling "diseased" and making the acquiantance of a young lady who is "like a car crash". But it trundles where it should roar, the brothers grim looking comfortable instead of invincible. Not a great start.

The boys swap roles for 'Cracking Up' and William attacks his self-penned single with a tad more gusto. The lyric is a classic outsider sneer, feeling like a freak and raising a finger to the world. Again, though, the tune plods and undersells the crackling menace of its recorded version.

There's more melody in the next number, another toxic Beach Boys belter from the new album, but a distorted bass drowns out everything else. Time was when the J&MC would have rejoiced in such random sonic vandalism, but in these strait-laced indie-toilet surroundings it becomes merely an irritating technical glitch. Things have come to a depressing pass when extraneous noise spoils a Reid brothers tune. Bloody hell, maybe we're just too old. Or there again, maybe they are.

The night is turning somewhat pear-shaped, and Jim is as pissed off as everyone else. "C'mon," he pouts sullenly. "Free drinks, man, you can do better than that." Damn right, and so can you. And then, mercifully, he does just that. The archly titled 'Supertramp' signals a shift into higher gear and the first sign of that patented Mary Chain lurch. The drums click into punishment mode while twin guitars lock horns in squalling carnage, feedback seeping between the cracks. The motor's still not quite firing, but there's a chewed-up mess of Satanic Monkees bubblegum in here somewhere. "It's penetration time", intones Reid darkly. "I'm a real believer".

'Dream Lover' is the real deal, a bullish new swagger fuelling its nihilistic grind. Jimbo has ditched his jacket and is fellating the microphone, tapping into the controlled chaos of classic J&MC, blasted by strobes and surfing on noise. This crashes headlong into 'All I Want Is You' from 'Honey's Dead', the throttle now fully open and the devil's gasoline flowing freely.

Terry Edwards, trumpeter to the stars, joins in for some turbo-riffing, Dinosaur-ish powerpop and an expansive, throbbing, wide-open anthem in the mould of Primal Scream's 'Come Together'. This is more like it. Then William seizes the mic once again for the spectacularly infantile two-fingered salute 'I Hate Rock'n'Roll' before Jim signs off with a poundingly robotic, all-guns-blazing assault on 'Reverence'.

A grand racket, eventually, but there's a palpable aftertaste of a job half done. Ultimately this was a premature rebirth to the wrong crowd in a terrible setting. And there's no encore, just a sense of unfinished business. Hopefully the Reids will be back on killer form for next month's tour. In the meantime, Jesus has left the building.

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