Freeheat: An Appetizer to The Jesus and Mary Chain
Any rock historian could easily stress the importance of The Jesus and Mary Chain. Though the influential band from Scotland did not receive such deserved recognition or sales during their active years, critics and fans have finally been beginning to realize the band’s influence on all types of contemporary music. The Jesus and Mary Chain’s lack of mainstream success can largely be attributed to their creative sound and innovative presentation, consisting of feedback experimentation, excessive reverb, droning vocals, and live sets that could sometimes consist of twenty minutes of pure noise; though with brothers Jim and William Reid leading the way, the band always pulled it off. Their 1985 debut Psychocandy is considered a classic for good reason, mixing together memorable melodies with an aggressive guitar attack that was one of the first to implement the “shoegaze” aspect. Even with that in mind, The Jesus and Mary Chain were not a shoegaze band. They were generally alternative but they still were cited as a large influence by other bands when the shoegaze genre started to rise in the late 80s and early 90s. After releasing their sixth and final album, Munki, in 1998, founder William Reid left the band and The Jesus and Mary Chain saw their demise. Their legacy still carried on strong though, influencing a vast amount number of bands ranging from Nirvana to My Bloody Valentine. Through the next several years, even though the Reid brothers were no longer working together, they were still active in music. William went on to form a solo career under the name of Lazycame and Jim formed Freeheat with Ben Lurie, who also was a member of The Jesus and Mary Chain during the peak years. To round out the lineup, the two enlisted the help bassist Romi Mori and drummer Nick Sanderson, both formerly of the Los Angeles-based The Gun Club (the band with Jeffrey Lee Pierce and his tragic story). Even though Jim and William Reid both announced plans to reform and play at Coachella this year, I believe that Freeheat is some great material to get hyped up for The Jesus and Mary Chain’s live reunion on April 27th. Though the Reid brothers are over twenty years older since their explosive debut of Psychocandy, both appear to have the same intensity and passion that they did as youthful musicians. It’s nice to see that experience hasn’t gone to their heads. Concerning Freeheat, their debut came in the year 2000 when they released the EP, Don’t Worry Be Happy. After another EP two years later, The Retox, they collaborated on the compilation Sunsets And Silhouettes along with William Reid and his younger sister Linda, also known as Sister Vanilla. This marked the first time the brothers were appearing on the same release since Munki.
While it appears clear that both of the Reid brothers are now dedicating their time to The Jesus and Mary Chain, taking a look at Freeheat’s debut full-length Back On The Water is certainly worth it for fans of both Reids. After a numerous amount of delays, the album was finally released last June. Consisting of seventeen tracks, ten of them are live while the other seven are brand new studio tracks. The live tracks were recorded live at The Paradiso in Amsterdam, demonstrating Freeheat’s live quality concisely. I would even go as far to say that it is comparable to The Jesus and Mary Chain’s vintage performances. Not the actual songs, but the performances themselves. All of the live tracks are extremely tight, with only the crowd’s excitement often giving away the fact that it is an actual live show. “Down” is one of the seven studio versions on the track, being a song that the band calls “the most airwave friendly ear candy with a delight that shimmers down your spine and dares you to sing”. Sure, Freeheat is more accessible than The Jesus and Mary Chain but I don’t see “Down” hitting any major radio stations besides those of college alternative radio stations. That being said, it’s an enjoyable song and hearing Jim Reid’s accustomed vocals are refreshing, even if the generic chorus will only cause spine tingling to those in love with simplicity. The opener “Keep On Truckin'” is hypnotic and entirely worthwhile, with Reid’s vocals again making their mark over a set of distinguished guitar effects and droned amplification. “Keep on truckin’, keep on suckin’, and keep on fuckin’,” is perhaps a line comparable to The Jesus and Mary Chain, who were always known for their quick remarks on sex, drugs, and anything that seemed morally shocking, even if it was a bit more in-depth than “Keep On Truckin'”. With the useless lyrics aside, the song is melodically comparable to Reid’s better days. In addition, I came away impressed with the live rendition of “The Two Of Us”. Being one of my favorite live songs on the album, primarily due to the backing vocals that Romi Mori lends during the chorus and second verse. Paired with Jim Reid’s relaxed vocal style, their duet in the chorus is worth a listen. The song also proves as a great example of how interconnected Freeheat seems to be when playing live. The fact that I enjoy the majority of the live songs on Back On The Water more than the studio recordings tells me that Freebird is perhaps one of those bands who just sounds better live. Even though studio tracks like “Down” and “Everything” are presentable, they can hardly hold a candle to the live versions of “The Two Of Us” or “What Goes Around”. In addition to the Freeheat songs, I put up three great songs from The Jesus and Mary Chain’s greatest album, Psychocandy. As you can see, their rough-edged sound of distorton and guitar experimentation may have turned off listeners in a year of decorated synth-pop, though anyone can recognize that The Jesus and Mary Chain were truly ahead of their time. I am looking forward to their reunion at Coachella.