The Jesus and Mary Chain
The Power of Negative Thinking
3.5 out of 5 Stars
The Jesus and Mary Chain made more than a few mistakes in their original 1984 to 1999 run. Drunken stage infamy aside, their recording career never brought them the acclaim they deserved, especially in the United States. Sequencing the jarring “The Living End” after the luscious “Just Like Honey” to kick off their debut Psychocandy would prove to be the first of many questionable (but honest) decisions. But in attempting to fill the band’s history gaps, new box set The Power of Negative Thinking: B-Sides & Rarities reveals just how much the JAMC actually got right on their first try.
Through 81 tracks across four discs, Power merely confirms that Jim and William Reid (the Mary Chain’s leaders and only constant members) failed to deviate from the principles of Record Company 101; they always saved their best material for proper albums. Unlike some of their indie peers and followers, the Reids actually used b-sides for lesser songs rather than hidden treasures.
So it follows, then, that the best cuts here are the eight alternate versions of Psychocandy tracks. The emotional purity in the “Just Like Honey” demo and the danceability of the soundtrack version of “The Hardest Walk” effortlessly overshadow the historical value of relics from the band’s infancy like the spacey, Magnetic Fields-predicting “Up Too High” (the Mary Chain’s first demo) and the noisy but musically pedestrian “Upside Down” (their first single).
As disc two of the set makes obvious, the JAMC just about exhausted their caché in recording the forgotten masterpiece, sophomore release Darklands. Other than retro-melodic b-side “Happy Place,” the only Darklands-era finds on The Power as essential as the “Happy When it Rains” demo are novelty numbers like “Kill Surf City,” “Bo Diddley is Jesus” and a cover of “Surfin’ USA.”
And that’s the holding pattern that runs through the rest of the Mary Chain’s albums and their related tracks; the worthy songs never got axed. But that doesn’t make the collection totally devoid of worthwhile nuggets. The spare, confessional 1989 b-side “I’m Glad I Never” offers a vulnerable side that the Reid’s rarely revealed. At a relaxed 90-seconds though, it certainly wasn’t much of a candidate for the spitfire tempo Automatic.
The Power features all of 1990’s Rollercoaster EP, and all four cuts pull their weight — especially the noise-pop classic “Silverblade” and a thumping run-through of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song.” Yet it’s really no surprise that only the EP’s radio-bent title track (which heavily borrows the melody of The Byrd’s version of “Mr. Tambourine Man”) was tapped for inclusion on the sexy, controversy-begging Honey’s Dead.
It may come as a disappointment that, in over four hours of music, The Power of Negative Thinking offers few to no tracks that match the indispensability of the original Mary Chain catalog. But in serving no true duds, it speaks to the consistency and timelessness of the Reids’ potent art. It accomplishes the important task of gathering nearly all the odds n’ sods of the JAMC’s legendary run in one place, and it’s a welcome addendum to a body of work which it could never equal. But then again, almost nothing else could either.