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Know When To Fold ‘Em: The Sad Case of Jesus And Mary Chain’s Munki

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By Joseph Kyle

Case File: Jesus And Mary Chain’s Munki

In the annals of rock’n’roll, William and Jim Reid have a nice little exhibit. From the noisy, mischievous fun of Psychocandy, to the melancholy pop-rock of Darklands, Automatic and Honey’s Dead, to the stoned-out joy of Stoned & Dethroned – not to mention so many B-sides to warrant three collections over a ten year period – their discography is, for the most part, a joy.

And then there’s Munki. God, I hated that record when it came out. Bloated, uneven, and a mess; for the one or two songs that are good, there are three or four that aren’t. But there were warning signs that the band should have called it a day, and the band members’ quotes below, taken from the reissue of Munki, seem to show a hindsight that was, sadly, lacking.

If your band has or is experiencing one of the following, you might want to call it quits:

1. You spend more time at pub than in the studio

In the liner notes to Stoned & Dethroned, band member Ben Lurie relates this: “It was during the recording of ‘I Hate Rock’N’Roll’ that the pub slipped into the equation. We’d pop over there while Dick Meany was setting up a mix or working on a drum sound or whatever, and we’d have a few pints. By the time we were recording Munki, we ended up over there a lot and sometimes didn’t make it back to the studio that day … Everything sounds great after a few beers, but often in the cold light of day we’d discover that what had sounded amazing yesterday was rubbish today.”

2. The ones who gave you your career reject your newest record

Jim Reid: “We sent the masters over to Geoff Travis, and he phoned me up and said it just wasn’t good enough. I couldn’t believe it … “

Ben Lurie: “Then we gave a tape of mixes to Geoff and Jeannette at Blanco and it all began to unravel. They didn’t like it at all. Geoff said something along the lines of, ‘Throw the baby out with the bathwater’ – he was suggesting we start again.”

Jim Reid: “We went in and had a meeting with Rob Dickins, and he said, “We’ll put it out if you want us to, but you don’t really want us to”, and when we asked what he meant, he went, ‘Nobody’s into it, we’ll stick it out and do nothing – go and get someone who wants to release it’.”

Major labels may or may not be the devil, take your pick, but when the people who have been directly involved in your career tell you that what you made is no good, it might seem quite simple to dismiss said opinions as wrong – and at times they may very well be – but you might want to pay heed. And it doesn’t matter who you are; look at the well-established #genius’ like Brian Wilson; go listen to Sweet Insanity and/or his song ‘Smart Girls’, and tell me if the record execs weren’t wrong in shelving it.

3. You and your creative partner can’t stand to be in the same room

Jim Reid: “Towards the end we argued about anything … If I’d say, ‘Turn the sound up on the telly’, he would say, ‘Turn it down!'”

The core of the band has always been two people. One’s a singer, the other’s a guitarist. You’re both the heart of the band. If you can’t stand each other in the studio, do you think going through the rounds after the album comes out is going to make things better? Witness: the House of Blues fiasco.

4. The artwork is cheap, and looks as if it was done at home 15 minutes before it was due

Seriously. I’ve made better-looking covers for mixtapes using Photoshop. The only redeeming quality is they didn’t use Comic Sans.

5. You write a song and your musical partner writes a fuck-you response to it

Though the following rule should be remembered, ‘I Hate Rock’N’Roll’ is a great song about their frustrations. Jim Reid’s response, ‘I Love Rock’N’Roll’? Not so much. Was it done out of spite? There’s no way to tell, but considering Jim’s words above, it’s hard not to think so. Sibling contradiction does run both ways.

(continues overleaf)

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16 Responses to Know When To Fold ‘Em: The Sad Case of Jesus And Mary Chain’s Munki

  1. Dave C October 20, 2011 at 8:48 am

    haha, we’ll i’m gonna put my hand up and say I love this record, and while JAMC fans as a whole cringe at it, I know a few guys who love this one as well.

    i love all their stuff – but the loose, throwaway vibe on this particular record to me has always been an inpiration.

    it’s funny what you can ‘read into’ an album once it takes a hold of you..and i had no idea of the studio dramas behind its making, or about record company problems.

    i just always assumed they finally decided to ditch their whole dark schtick and just put out a colourful mixtape of an album, as if JAMC were doing a GBV on us. even down to the cheapo stock photo library artwork & 1st year design student layout.

    and then it all stopped.

    oh well..boy did i get it wrong! (or right?).

  2. Tobey October 20, 2011 at 9:46 am

    It would appear you’re a moron with -upon evidencing this piece- a shallow comprehension of things at best, nice WHO magazine reasoning for your article ” going to the pub more than being in the studio” ” the brothers don’t like each other-ooooohhh” “The artwork is cheap”? It’s sound you clownshoe! who cares at all what a band did whilst making a record -perhaps you should consider writing reviews of paintings? who gives a shit about the artwork, sure it’s great if you like the artwork of a certain release but if it puts you off the music, adds to your distaste then why the fuck are you reviewing sound?! I fear your aesthetic barometer is buried deep in your rectal cavity, but then theres probably no room behind the silver slipper already inserted is there 🙁 – not to mention the transparency of your copy pasted notes re JAMC releases prior to MUNKI- nice, wikki or just google chrome? you’ve not even heard them i’d wager. MUNKI is JAMCS finest release ( i’ll get to that )- did you question or “research” what the label that did release it thought of the record ? pish posh of course you didn’t .
    Lets meet, we can glass each other then you can write about how the guy( me) that started all this violence wasn’t even wearing a cool looking t shirt and how it just bummed you out that the experience was not visually what you wanted- Stay at Ravisis Bar chap, i like to see you through the glass fish bowl as i walk by with an inner giggle.- Abuse aside the songs are very well written – err that’d be where a writer makes parts fit together to create a rise and fall or a continuity for that matter, that feels good, sounds good etc capiche? ya with me so far egg roll ? This JAMC did to their best on MUNKI- it stands light years ahead of all their previous records- the guitar textures are great and it’s quite a crystaline mix, very clear in it’s presentation of distortion and layering of guitars- drums sounds perfest for the record, slightly overdriven to sit right in there with the whole tone of the songs..angry yet carefree( i could take a leaf out of their book sure) All in all the songs are concise moments of Pop with a couple long playrs in there for good measure. BLOATED- i’d like you to explain what you mean?- what are you referring to when you say it was bloated? the mix itself? what ? Was the paper insert to your copy all water logged and hence bloated? Bloated? i am actually curious on what you meant there. PS, did you get to keep the wheelchair ? I bet you discuss the validity of music video clips too when pondering if you like a SOOOOONG…keyword SOOONG.

  3. Dave C October 20, 2011 at 10:25 am

    somebody send this article to Lou Reed/Metallica, quick

  4. danny October 20, 2011 at 10:57 am

    “seem to show a hindsight that was, sadly, lacking”

    How can you have hindsight while it’s actually happening?

    Agree with everything in terms of the 1-5.

  5. Joseph Kyle October 20, 2011 at 11:45 am

    @Danny: You are correct; “insight that was, sadly, lacking at the time,” is what I meant to say. My error, and thank you for bringing that to my attention.

    as to the other poster: sorry, Mr. Reid. I didn’t like your album. But I would like to say that the point of this piece wasn’t a review of Munki per se, but to review the environment around the band that screams: YOU SHOULD BREAK UP. So yeah, the background information–it was relevant.

  6. Dave H October 20, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    I’ve never understood the Munki hate. I’d easily rate it above Darklands or Automatic. There’s variety on there and the guitar sounds are phenomenal. I liked the way ‘I hate rock and roll’ and ‘I love rock and roll’ bookend the album, I don’t see it as a ‘fuck you’ between the brothers at all. In fact it’s probably the re-issue I’m looking forward to the most.

  7. Princess Stomper October 20, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    @ Dave C – someone should have sent this to Metallica when Load came out.

    I didn’t even have to hear the music to agree with the article, because it all screams that the band just weren’t really into making the music. The minute it becomes less about “I need to express this idea” and more about “It’s about time I made a new album” is the time you need to think very, very carefully about whether you have another album in you at all.

  8. Wallace Wylie October 20, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    Fuck everything after “Psychocandy”. Everything. Stupid, pointless bollocks.

  9. Everett True October 20, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    Fuck everything after “Psychocandy”. Everything. Stupid, pointless bollocks.

    I wrote a live review of the Mary Chain around about 1992 that voiced these sentiments, spread over 600 words. Jim Reid is on record as saying it’s the worst review they ever received.

  10. Joseph Kyle October 20, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    @Dave: From the liner notes: “William hates ‘I Love Rock & Roll’ and he hates that I wrote it. I know it annoys the shit out of him–he’s convinced I only wrote it to wind him up! Which is partially true…”

  11. Scott October 20, 2011 at 11:30 pm

    This is going to be a recurring series, right?

  12. Thierry Chatain October 21, 2011 at 4:09 am

    Well-crafted piece every band should read. With one flaw: despite the dire circumstances under which the album was recorded and where the band was at at the time, “Munki” is easily one of my favorite JAMC efforts. A “great sick album”, to paraphrase François Truffaut’s “grands films malades” turn of phrase (re Hitchcock’s “Marnie”). And, as far as I know, spite is as good a motivation as anything to write a song.

  13. Everett True October 21, 2011 at 9:00 am

    This is going to be a recurring series, right?

    That’s the idea, certainly.

  14. Dave C October 22, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    i’ve been listening to this album ad nauseum since first reading this story and I’m convinced it has more sweat & balls & hate & loe & genius in it that juat about all their prior stuff put together. the older stuff was nicely framed dimly-lit angst with a lick of eyeliner or some hairspray – this record is like naked balls-out behind the scenes JAMC. it’s real and it’s adorable. fuck all youhaterz. softcocks, the lotta ya. McGee released it when no-one else would. nuff said.

  15. Dave C October 22, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    ^ ^ apolojiez in advanse for my drounk’ed responcezx.whoahh – is this thing onn ?

  16. Joseph Kyle October 23, 2011 at 9:40 am

    Just a friendly reminder, this isn’t really a review of Munki, it’s using that record as a barometer as to whether your band should break up…

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