The 80’s were the age of angst and the rightful birth place of teenage culture admitting that it’s horrible to be a teenager. Despite some rather obvious outliers, Rebel Without a Cause, The Ramones and others, teenage culture before the 80’s mostly consisted of Americana-esque ideas regarding freedom, love and optimism and yet with bands like The Smiths storming the charts and films like The Breakfast Club filling multiplexes it seemed that a new decade had ushered in a new era of teenage honesty. Bands like The Smiths and The Housemartins also pioneered what would go on to become indie music categorised by these lyrics of teenage trouble and yet in the cultural conversation of inspiration, originality and lyrical connection, I feel that one band, and one album in particular, are often left behind, that is The Jesus and Mary Chain and their seminal album ‘Darklands’.
Released at the conclusion of summer thirty years ago, ‘Darklands’ reached number 5 in the U.K album chart and signalled a new popularity to the band previously branded ‘The New Sex Pistols.’ This comparison applied to the band for their risqué lyrics and raucous live shows felt shallow as the music press, finally, began to catch onto the lustful angst in the band’s lyrics and instrumentation. The band’s melding of lyrical poetry, gothic imagery and vulnerable anger reached a heightened crescendo in this album of balladic sadness and the pain of being a teenager reflected through existential horrors.
The record opens with the titular track, in which Will Reid professes he has ‘gone to the Darkland’ itself to talk and rhyme with his ‘chaotic soul’, these opening lyrics seem to suggest that this entire record is a place for the Reid brothers to vent, discuss and reflect on their innermost selves. These lyrics are backed by a heavy, flowing riff that instantly creates the distinctive sound that goes on to populate the rest record, a riff that continues steadily and peaks at a chorus of deep longing in which Reid sings that he ‘wants to go’ in one of the album’s more vocally conventional moments. Following this ‘Deep One Perfect Morning’ seems to describe the morning after a decadent night in which one’s ‘thoughts turn backwards’ and ‘screws turn into my mind’. This source material also allows the band to create the first major mood change as the record jumps from the depression and need for escapism to the youthful dawn following one such night of escape. It’s a feeling shared by teenagers across the country every weekend and this softer tone is elaborated upon when Jim Reid describes the ‘moon and all the stars’ in a line that no matter how wonderful could still be ripped from the diary of any besotted teenager.
This major-key shift continues into the band’s first directly romantic track ‘Happy When It Rains’. The lyrics of two lovers connecting over shared misery is a moment of pre-emo romantic melancholy most evident in the track’s title itself. ‘Down on Me’ immediately translates this inner turmoil into the rough bounce of a track preoccupied with ideas that would go on to be clichés in teen literature such as Jim Reid admitting that he can ‘fake a smile’. While these lyrics may now seem over-used and under-developed, in the context in which they are used and the tight instrumentation behind them means that you understand why these tropes have become so commonplace.
The deeply downbeat ‘Nine Million Rainy Days’ serves as the midpoint for the album and whereas ‘Happy When It Rains’ described the building of a relationship signified by rain, this track with its spacious instrumentation and lyrics of rain as a symbol of heartbreak seems to suggest a breakdown of that very same relationship. ‘April Skies’ is next and boasts the album’s catchiest drum beat which is impressive as a drum machine was used in place of Gillespie following his split from the band, ‘April Skies’ is also another song that perfectly captures the mid-point of passion and sadness in a series of sensational riffs and prose describing another toxic relationship.
‘Fall’ is the most overtly sexual track on this album using deliberately provocative imagery such as people on their knees and people falling onto one another to balance the equally dark lyrics of someone falling into a depressive episode all whilst a tight, frantic bass-line overplays the shortest and most energetic track here. This sexuality is both furthered and dismissed in ‘Cherry Came Too’: a Beach-Boy’s-esque tribute to a girl who stirs something in Jim Reid, whether this is sensual or not is never described however the bouncing verses that collide into a joyous chorus suggest a far more innocent reading.
‘On The Wall’ follows and draws the album back into thoughtful contemplation as a head-banging drum beat and smooth bass-line frame lyrics of growing up and looking back. The track also holds a haunting quality as references of time, hour glasses and ‘grains of sand’ suggest an inevitability to the passing of time. The album concludes gently with the melodic and acoustic ‘About You’ which also holds the final reference to rain describing lovers who live ‘in the pouring rain’ and there being ‘something warm about the rain’. The positive conclusion of this common thread ends the album with a delicate optimism, yet one still enriched with The Jesus and Mary Chain’s singular lyrical and musical approach.
As an album complete, ‘Darklands’ is a balanced, heavy record of highs and lows, connections and breakups, angst and joy. The teenage experience may never be referenced directly and yet it wasn’t in the works of The Smiths either, what makes this such an applicable record to the early years of adulthood is it’s references to common themes of love, pain and awkward loneliness. This may be an under-appreciated and under-recognised piece of youthful anxiety and yet that may be down to the spiky and rough personal moments blended into the broad ideas here. This is the coming of age album that could only be made by The Jesus and Mary Chain.