Misunderstood at its release, Automatic had five of the best songs of the band.
Listening to Psychocandy today, it’s possible that the sonic impact has somewhat faded, it’s difficult, nowadays, to imagine just how incongruous they would have been among the kajagoogoos or Whams of that time. But the influential 1985 debut album from The Jesus and Mary Chain with Its pioneering mix of feedback and 60’s pop-rock harmonies left a seismic impact, inspiring countless shoegaze and alternative rock bands in its wake.
The follow-up album, Darklands, saw a huge change in sound, it turned down the amplifiers for a more restrained-sounding approach. The album is moody and calm, relying on acoustic guitars and more laid-back melodies, less distortion and subtler arrangements, allowing for a more somber element to emerge. And it worked, praised by critics and the public, Darklands showed the band could turn off their feedback and the songs would still stand up.
By the time they got to record their third full-length album the expectations were high, and by the direction hinted by non-album singles like “Sidewalking”, abrasive and dark sound, or “Surfin' U.S.A.", a return to the origins were expected. But again the band decided to innovate.
Unfortunately, the critics at the time didn’t get the message, Automatic was derided upon its release for employing drum machines and synths (there’s no bass guitar on the album), and for theses sins, Automatic gets a bad rap that’s largely undeserved.
But the crisp sound of the drum machines and synth bass guitar gave a contrasting bed to the buzzsaw guitars, with bursts of feedback still ruling the day from time to time, and abrasive vocals of the Reid brothers. In hindsight, you could say that the results of the new electronic approach were positive, with a tech/rock that had more relation to New Order than New Wave.
The album contains five of their all-time best songs: “Here Comes Alice”, a dark sugary confection, “Coast to Coast”, a driving and pulsating track with fantastic guitar parts, “Between Planets”, one of my favorites and a song that could be a rock anthem, “Blues From A Gun”, their most successful single in America up to that point, and “Head On”, musically pulverizing: “Makes you want to feel / Makes you want to try / Makes you want to blow the stars from the sky.”
Two years later, Pixies, one of the most respected indie bands at the time, helped to clean the rep of the album, covering “Head On”. And although the harsh reviews at the time of its release, critical and fan reception has improved with the passage of time, and nowadays most of the critics put the album among the best of Jesus and Mary Chain's career.