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ALBUM REVIEW : THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN "Automatic," Warner Bros. ****

November 12, 1989|RICHARD CROMELIN

The brothers Reid have made an art form of abrasiveness: a first album that dragged you through thickets of distortion to reach the sweetness at the center. Concerts marked by indifferent delivery and unpredictable (usually short) duration. Mumbling interviews. There's something refreshingly real about these surly, semi-articulate Scots and their pursuit of an eccentric ideal of pop perfection.

They might have hit it with their third album. The Jesus and Mary Chain still works the same few rock archetypes--blues, Velvet Underground two-chord rise and fall, Stooges grunge riffs, Ramones bubble-gum punk--and this time, the Reids really make it sing and surge and soar.

"Automatic's" power is its faith in simplicity and its inspiration is in the way it sabotages the structures it celebrates. William Reid approaches the guitar as a flamethrower, and by the end of the album he's trashed the terrain in just about every track, like the climactic shoot-out in an over-the-top apocalyptic battle movie.

Jim Reid's vocals remain detached, in these Phil Spector fever dreams of fumbling, glancing encounters. Though unease and madness emerge from the cryptic lyrics as the main motifs, the album refuses to wallow in Angst . The purity of the monolithic sound, the vocals' hypnotic pull, the pulverizing power, the uplifting tunes all see to that.

The J&MC ranges from pretty folk-pop ("Halfway to Crazy") to a clattering exercise in edginess ("Take It"), but it's the lean rockers like "Head On" that really carry the show. Jim sings:

And there's something going on inside

Makes you want to feel makes you want to try

Makes you want to blow the stars from the sky ...

And the music makes you believe you could.

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