I have to be careful what I ask for, I guess. I once made the knock on The JMC’s album Automatic that it was a little too “automatic”: like as in all songs got put through the same leather-cool sneering culture cooker, and then produced through the same leaf blower-sound apparatus. So when the band, which features the same singer and guitarist (two brothers) from their original days but different just about everything else places “War on Peace” second on their new album, a staggeringly slow and melancholy ballad which never seems to end, I can’t help but listen to it as a “fu** you” to yours truly. Guys, is it too late to turn that leaf blower back on?
And really, in general, sequencing and flow aren’t really a strong suit of this album — it seems to fail to really take off and establish any multi-song groove, and this can sometimes be symptomatic of having too many cooks in the kitchen, having an oppressive producer in other words. Ok, here I see their current bassist, a gentleman who goes by the name “Youth,” gets engineering credit… and it’s ironic that a member of the rhythm section, a sort of behind-the-scenes guy, produced this album, because it’s certainly one of the band’s least noisy albums to date. In fact, it’s very bubble-gum-poppy, by most standards, but whereas once every band was trying to be Nirvana, and critics dubbed Live “relentlessly poppy,” we now seem to have entered a time in music when everybody wants to be Len (yes, “Steal My Sunshine” Len). I wouldn’t put that past the JMC. What draws the listener in, though, is what I’d call the band’s professional penchant for sounding like a bunch of slackers — the guitar tones are individual, pristine and crystalline like they’ve ever been, roughly calling to mind The Stone Roses in many places, but under every one of these seems to lie a subtle hat run on the part of drummer Brian Young, the kind of thing lots of people wouldn’t notice, in mistaking this music for minimalism. In general, Damage and Joy makes me think of the Pearl Jam line “I change by not changing at all”. And to be sure, I didn’t want the JMC to change: I was fine with them just the way they are.
The only difference I can really trace up through side a from their early stuff is that many of the songs are ABOUT girls, and also SUNG IN PART BY girls (“Always Sad”, “Song for a Secret”).
Whoa, this “The Two of Us” song is totally cool (playing almost as a double entendre of frustration before the fact that they’ll never be the Beatles, who wrote the song “Two of Us,” and also a successful conveyance of the dumb simplicity of basic elation in old age, featuring the direct chorus mantra “The two of us are getting high”).
“Los Feliz Blues and Greens” is a ballad that works pretty well as the culmination of side a. This is now the first slow song SINCE track two “War on Peace,” and it almost seems like the band is saying see, I TOLD you we could make this slow song sh** work, we just had to actually WANT to, and the bizarre chorus of “God bless America / God bless the U.S.A.” is saved by what I’m pretty sure is oboe — some low brass instrument in the vein yes of a certain Dolby darling Mike Doughty – “American Car.” Whoa, too much patriotism here, though I’m pretty sure there was irony buried in there somewhere too.
Really, the more I think about it, original Jesus and Mary Chain singer Jim Reid letting the bassist produce this album makes sense, with how laid back his persona is, and which he seems to have been all the while. So compared with the work of Black Francis, who’s reported to sometimes have been sort of an a-hole, the Pixies’ Indie Cindy, Damage and Joy plays as much more of a full-band effort, and ironically, the whole operation being less of a “joke,” congeals as also a project in which the members had markedly more fun.