I must admit I always chuckle at the part in High Fidelity (2000) when Barry (Jack Black) tells a hapless customer in his clutches, who has just said The Jesus and Mary Chain "always seemed . . ." “They always seemed really great is what they always seemed. They picked up where your precious Echo left off and all you can do is complain about no more Echo & the Bunnymen albums!”
Well, there are more Echo & the Bunnymen albums, if anyone cares. I still haven’t heard Meteorite (2014), but might. Meanwhile, there aren’t any more Jesus and Mary Chain albums, after 1998. And, Barry’s enthusiasm notwithstanding, I too felt JMC “always seemed . . .” Like they were trying too hard to be the 80s’ hipsters’ answer to the Velvet Underground. Not that I mind that. In fact I grew to like it, but at arms’ length. Indeed, as I’ve just been reminded by my friend Emmy, the Eighties were the time of that brief “Paisley Underground” phase of things that leaned heavily on the recording and presentation styles of psychedelia c. 1965-67. JMC were the punker version of that because they emulated punk-precursors the Velvet Underground, c. 1967-68, and the Stooges c. 1969, rather than, say, Between the Buttons.
But Barry has a point. Echo was already staking out that territory c. 1980-84. And that’s why JMC, who debuted with their ground-breaking (in hindsight anyway) album Psychocandy in 1985, “picked up where they left off.” And 1987’s Darklands is almost definitely a more necessary album than Echo’s of that year. JMC cleaned up the harsher edges of their sonic attack and became melodic in a way that Echo and crew already were. But they still had an edge that came from their ability to create Phil Spectoresque soundscapes. It is a heady mix the brothers Reid create.
Today’s song is the opening track on the first album, which I’ve selected because of associations it has, though I’m much more partial to Darklands—especially the first two tracks. The thing about “Just Like Honey” besides the sheer dense aura it presents, like a sheet comprised of mother of pearl being rained upon by various shades of piss, is its hypnotically hollow drumbeat, its twanging buzz-saw guitars, oceans of reverb, and the way backup singer Karen Parker’s rendering of “just like honey” as a breath more than a whisper locks so effectively with Jim Reid’s monotone slur, creating a little filip, “just like hon—just like honey—EY.” Kills me. “I'll be a plastic toy” . . . or silicon, or rubber, or what-have-you.
The song’s associations come from its very effective use—indeed the most effective moment in the entire film—in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation (2003). The impetus that sends Bob Harris (Bill Murray) to the arms of Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), younger (married) romantic muse to his elder (married) platonic mentor, for an inaudible murmur in her ear and a kiss is made an emotional crux largely because of the way JMC’s signature song comes in to comment, making the moment seem a do-or-die melding. “Listen to the girl / As she takes on half the world / Moving up and so alive / In her honey-dripping beehive” with the “It’s good, so good, it’s good, so good” making our hearts expand with those of the two characters, having just shared one of those “I don’t really know you but I’ll remember you forever” embraces.
In fact, the moment would count more if Coppola had managed to make Charlotte one of “those girls”—the kind who do seem to be taking on half the world. JMC gives her a lot more stature than Coppola’s script does, but let’s not cavil about the film. Let’s stick with the JMC moment, as if the whole film exists just to give us a satisfying music video idea. And why not?
“Walking back to you / Is the hardest thing / That I can do.” Maybe, but walking away can be awfully hard too, sometimes. So I’m dedicating this post today to someone I sorta had a “lost in translation” moment with (minus the screen kiss) . . . which occurred after the film was already common currency, so, maybe it really wasn’t “all that,” and I’m simply letting a memory of the film create that sense. There was no soundtrack. Still. The song is a melding of cinema and reality, for me. There’s a jewel ya know glows . . .
Just like honey