Album Review: The Jesus and Mary Chain – Glasgow Eyes

[Fuzz Club; 2024]

On those rare occasions when a band records a new album in their 40th year of existence, chances are it’s probably going to be one of two things: a turgid rehash of past (long gone) glories, or a contemporaneous musical reimagining in a vain attempt to be seen as relevant.

Thankfully, Glasgow Eyes is neither of these things, and the Reid brothers should be rightfully applauded for this as it’s no mean feat. On only their second studio album since their 2007 reformation, it’s clear that The Jesus and Mary Chain are still playing by their own rules. Self-produced, and recorded at Mogwai’s Castle of Doom studio in Glasgow, the 12 tracks shift the aural dynamic towards more motorik beats and synths than their usual and well-trodden path of squalls of guitar. It’s a bold move, yet one that also frustrates on occasion, too. When Glasgow Eyes hits its stride it’s up there with some of the best work the band have ever produced, yet it is also their most disjointed effort and the rarefied airs of the highs don’t always forgive the lows.     

A thread that runs through Glasgow Eyes is the rock’n’roll lineage that JAMC exist within. There’s some self-reflection, some self-celebration, and an occasional autobiographical lyric that feels more vulnerable than usual. Yet throughout, there’s a nagging sense that although there may have been some noble intention behind all of this, they’re just screaming “DO YOU KNOW WHO WE ARE? WE DESERVE YOUR ATTENTION” while accusations of phoning in some elements of the album wouldn’t be far off the mark. It’s weird that, for a band who were once so vital and so visceral, there’s a sense of apathy at times here that isn’t all that appealing – and it’s not their arch-cool swagger coming to the fore. 

There is undoubtedly some great and fresh sounding work on the album, though. Opener “Venal Joy” kicks off with a kosmiche Musik stomp, like Stereolab jamming with Faust while Alan Vega nods stoically yet approvingly through a haze of cigarette smoke. It’s a bop, for sure, and promises much for the album as a whole, even though the Reid boys can’t keep up this level of fire and pent up ferocity. “jamcod” kicks off with twisting barbed electronics, and an almost psychedelic oscillating melody before the guitars kick in for the shortest of times. Here’s one of the delights of the album – it doesn’t give you what you expect. The Mary Chain have always been contrarians in many ways; existing somewhere just out of the mainstream recognition they pretend not to crave, and within a non-specified aural timescape where they can both ape and pay tribute to their heroes without facing accusations of impropriety. Few acts hold such an esteemed and privileged position within the canon of the British alternative music scene so it’s an absolute joy when Glasgow Eyes hits the mark.    

Elsewhere, “Discotheques” is interesting as there’d be no way anyone would know it’s the Mary Chain out of context of the record, while “Second of June” is as good as the record gets. With the lyric “Brother, can you hear me calling you?” and an almost emotionless repetition of the band’s name, there’s a sense of fragility present that leans on nostalgia and times lost to ego and sibling rivalry. Those relational dynamics have been well played out in the history of the Mary Chain, as has been the case in many other classic British bands (think Oasis, The Kinks, or Right Said Fred at a stretch) but the plaintive guitar work, pensive and restrained, does the hard work on the track and offers a sense that such feelings are now in check. It’s great, and would have made one hell of a closing track.    

So, to the sub-par…“The Eagles and The Beatles” is an absolute stinker on every level. There’s a pastiche melody and tempo from “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” to start with, and then some plodding musical mediocrity as we hit the first verse and some farcical lyrics including the belter “I’ve been rolling with the Stones” which really should have been thought about twice. But then later you get “{’ve been rolling with the Stones / Mick and Keith and Brian Jones / Andrew Oldham’s on the phone” and you can’t help but stare into space and wonder why nobody in the JAMC camp had the courage to take Jim and William aside and assure them that they are better than this. For a band who have historically produced albums that have been entirely immersive, this is… just not that. I’m sure some people will love this song, and think it’s ace to see that the Reids have got a sense of humour. Those people are entirely wrong, though. Don’t listen to them.     

“Girl 71” goes by pleasantly enough, but this is JAMC, for Christ’s sake – when did it become okay for this band to produce songs that just go by pleasantly enough? Then there’s “Hey Lou Reid” which has a somewhat clever self-referential name (assuming you know enough about the band and their reverence for The Velvet Underground) but that’s about it. It stops and starts, picks up steam before dropping the momentum altogether to move elsewhere, and it feels more like a medley of possibilities than a fully considered entity. 

“Pure Poor” is an absolute joy (yay – back to the positives!) and plays on the frazzled edge between inertia and evidence of energy. It’s lethargic in the best way possible, languid in the style that you want the Mary Chain to be. The varying guitar lines all feel as though they’re pulling in different directions, yet without the verve to alter the dynamic away from a swirling and introspective glorious mess. “Chemical Animal” shimmers in a hazy numbness, the best produced track on the record by some distance. The lines “I fill myself with chemicals / To hide the dark shit I don’t show” again display that degree of honesty and vulnerability that feels alien to the band. It suits them.  

Glasgow Eyes isn’t far off being a great record, but those drops in quality aren’t just blips, they’re chasms.