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‘Damage and Joy’, the highly-anticipated studio album from long dormant alt-rock outfit The Jesus and Mary Chain is somewhat of a confusing beast. The current musical climate in the UK is perhaps the most diverse it has ever been and with bands such as Gorillaz, The xx and Lorde all making their musical comebacks this year after brief periods away from the spotlight, it raises the question of whether there is room for an ageing band with an equally ageing fanbase that has done little to nothing to engage or entice their audience in the 19 years that they have laid silent.
The short answer is that the new album, tailored by Jim and William Reid falls short. That isn’t to say that the album is a complete failure, it just lacks the artistic merit required in order to separate it from the plethora of other comeback albums that have been put out by older bands who have fallen subject to the same trap. For a start, the album is just far too long. Contemporary audiences, despite their willingness to give most music a try, are not particularly keen on the prospect of an album spanning 14 songs and falling just shy of the hour mark. This is a small limitation, though it certainly does infringe on the experience, knowing that if you’re dedicating yourself to listening all the way through then you’re in for a long slog.
That leads me on to my next point, the sheer lack of instrumental diversity holds this album back from growing into one that has any kind of replay-ability. Their sound is relatively unchanged from what we were left with after 1998’s ‘Munki’ which really makes one question whether in the almost two decades since their last project, have they really learnt anything? Their sound is not a dull one by any stretch of the imagination, with William’s fierce licks and Jim’s chilling vocals still playing off each other very well, however the lack of imagination with some of the lyrics on this album leaves a lot to be desired. That isn’t to say that they are completely lacking in self-awareness, with lyrics such as ‘tryna win your interest back // But you ain’t having none of that’ (from ‘Amputation’) and ‘you know there’s no safety net // You know this is all we get’ // (from ‘Facing Up To The Facts’), showing that they are certainly aware that the failure of this new album would potentially seal their fate as a group of has-been alternative fogies.
However, what is perhaps the most charming thing to come out of this confession is that they are upholding their infamous behaviour of not giving a single fuck about it. This kind of attitude (though commendable) does little to engage newer audiences and will likely deter younger fans, who are perhaps listening to the band for the first time, from indulging themselves further into their musical catalogue.
This isn’t to say that the album is without its merits. The relationship (musically, not literally) between the two brothers clearly couldn’t be stronger, as the two play off each other very well. William’s subdued, yet distinctively punchy licks complement Jim’s droning tones just as much as they did on Psychocandy. Musically, this is the two of them at their fighting best. As mentioned earlier, the lyrics, though patchy in places, are particularly humbling & honest and despite the obvious egotism shared between the two brothers, they display a vulnerability that is difficult to discredit.
Ultimately, ‘Damage and Joy’ will do little to draw new fans to the bands proverbial flame and leaves a lot to be desired on the musical front. The almost hour long track list is also asking a little too much of an audience, whose primary method of listening to the album will be through streaming services such as Spotify. The album, though particularly plain in places, demonstrates why the pair rose to fame in the first place, as their musical chemistry is at its very best. However, they stuck to the script and played it safe, the lack of experimentation or diversity with their sound plaguing this release and subsequently labelling it as ‘yet another comeback album’.