Published on October 19th, 2018 | by Dave Scaddan0
PANNED GOLD: JMC’s Stoned and Dethroned
In our new music column, Panned Gold, Dave looks at albums that got a bad rap. First up, Jesus and Mary Chain’s ‘Stoned and Dethroned.’
As collectors and consumers of music, we face a choice in the 21st century in terms of how we discover and experience the body of work produced by an artist or group. The realm of compilations, star-rankings and streaming services pulls us perilously close to a state where many great musicians could be remembered only for a single album, a handful of tracks, or maybe even a single song. Many of us want to get straight to the ‘best of’ so badly that we risk missing out on the so-called ‘rest of.’
And worse, we risk letting someone else (like Apple, or Spotify, or a reviewer like me) tell us where the ‘best ofs’ are. We risk feeling more informed about music because an algorithm has led us to the shiniest nugget. Actually, that algorithm has just used a facile and homogenous generalization to hide an artist’s incredible life’s work by boiling it down to a more easily-digestible chunk. I would never be sad about twenty-first century youth discovering Prince or Michael Jackson through Purple Rain or Thriller, but the thought of them believing that the greatness began and ended there because of what their feed is telling them about taste is quite depressing. Off the Wall and Dirty Mind are just as important, just as innovative, just as influential, but far more likely to be dismissed.
Panned Gold will be my way of reminding music fans of the wealth we miss out on when we adhere to some faceless entity’s notion of ‘the best.’ Many prolific artists have recorded music that risks being ignored simply because it is not as famous as something else they did. I’ll be trying to pull albums that deserve to be heard, but for many reasons, have become known as missteps or duds.
The Jesus and Mary Chain – Stoned and Dethroned
When I meet someone who loves The Chain and we’re talking about the greatness of The Reids, I see a lot of confused, squinched-up faces when I say that ‘Stoned and Dethroned’ is the record of theirs I’ve come to love most over the years. The album is, in some ways, a betrayal of their sonic mandate to rattle earholes. The slight nods to country and western were never what the kids who grew up sucking on ‘Psychocandy’ wanted from William and Jim. If you loved the noise and pulse of ‘Automatic,’ you didn’t want to gear down and hear JMC sing love songs. I get that.
But like a lot of panned gold, ‘Stoned and Dethroned’ came at an odd bend in the creek. In 1994, The Jesus and Mary Chain were not fitting in at all with the styles of the time. As cool as the young Reids had looked at the start, they now looked a little lame in the light of all the adroitly heavy guitar bands and sonically astute rap crews competing for space. So instead of ratcheting up the feedback or lacing some slick production through some heavy drum machines, they made ‘Stoned and Dethroned.’ The record is a kind of acknowledgement of their own fall – a self-documented tapestry of one of the lower points in their career. On ‘Hole’, Jim sings like a fallen diva, “This has been my prison / Got no high, got no low / This has been religion / Took my heart, killed my soul.” The album is filled with lines like these, lamenting, reflecting, being surprised by how quickly things can change. As William sings on ‘Never Saw it Coming’, “You won’t see it coming, and you won’t feel it coming, and you won’t know it’s coming, till it comes.”
Yet the record they put out during this awkward and unloved phase of their existence, a record that represents their sound less accurately than any other they ever made, is a seventeen-track mine of slow, sweet, sad, simple songs that I believe would’ve brought some other band in some other time a lot of attention. But because The JMC made it, and made it when they did, many of their own fans see it as a forgettable foray into slide guitar and twang. A shame. William and Jim wrote a pile of great songs here, packed with simple, cryptic, memorable phrases and lines. Hearing Shane MacGowan sing ‘God Help Me’ is one of many reminders that both brothers could write songs that would’ve sounded great performed by anyone. Years later when alt-country became a thing, I would often think of how effectively Stoned and Dethroned could’ve glided through that slipstream into glory.
And in a way, this album might’ve been just what they needed to reverse their lapse into obscurity. Before long, they would again be making records their adoring fans would love. Perhaps by proving to themselves and each other that they didn’t need to fall back on the gimmicks that aided their rise, William and Jim gained the confidence to reclaim those styles making Munki. Though it came out on Sub Pop four years later in 1998, Munki gave Chain fans the closure they would need for many unproductive years to come, leaving Stoned and Dethroned to stagnate inside a forgotten and unforgiven hole in their catalogue. But even William seemed to be embracing the warmth of that hole on ‘These Days’, S&D‘s penultimate track, where he sang, ‘These Days I feel Immune / To all the sadness and the gloom / If things fall into place / Get on to the right side of grace.”