❉ Looking back on a classic album that recently celebrated its 30th birthday.
Few bands since The Velvet Underground dared write a laconic, lazy ballad, fewer still would dare open an album with a laconic, lazy ballad, but so is the confidence and key strengths of Darklands that the Reid brothers could keep the fast paced, energy lite, single made Happy When It Rains for later. Where Strangeways, Here We Come was clever and Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me was eccentric, ‘Darklands’ was a bona fide rock classic, the lineage of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Slade and , naturally, The Velvet Underground on one record.
And what an opener it is, the title track sung and embellished by William’s softer tones (Jim Reid’s snarl would brace the song when performed live in later years). Broadened by a Lennon like vulnerability and sentified by one of William Reid’s finer guitar licks, this was a strangely beautiful song from a band that shocked the world with fiery feedback on their debut a mere two years earlier. “I’m going to the darklands/To talk in rhyme/With my chaotic soul” William chimed, Lennon in delivery, Lennon in lyric, no album had opened in such a stark manner since Lennon cried for a mother he never had. Their most arresting song after ‘Some Candy Talking’, this was a piece more akin to Eliotian soul-searching than supposed heroin consumption.
Produced by Bill Price and William Reid, this was a decidely more commercial album than their debut, less reverb used and greater emphasis on melody. And such maturity worked, Down On Me and Cherry Came Too among their finest output, gravitas and weight in place of wall of gravitated reverb.
While a band to the outside world, within the studio, the record was entirely the product of both Reid brothers, a drum machine taking the place of Bobby Gillespie (Gillespie’s attentions now found themselves entirely with Primal Scream, the future nineties dance zeitgeist). It’s a device used to strong effect, Happy When It Rains and April Skies more metric and direct than the sound of real drums. Layered with some of the most inventive indie guitar playing outside of The Smiths, William Reid’s style goes from pysch pop to proto punk with ease, versatitilty and nuance on both tracks, one of the most underrated guitarists of his generation.
A decade before Liam Gallagher made a career from nasal swearing, Jim Reid’s swagger came through vinyl with an audible middle finger salute for all to hear. Less Sex Pistol style shock, more Rolling Stone swagger rock, Jim was the ultra late eighties indie king, equal parts cool and crazy. You can hear the energy of a live performance radiating through the speakers of April Skies, coda heavy in delivery. Happy When It Rains and Deep One Perfect Morning were deceptively optimistic, Jim’s delivery resonanting a Dylanesque scepticism. (“Was I ever happy, full stop?” Jim later told The Guardian in 2015, every inch of sincerity. “In the Mary Chain, I guess, as in life, happiness is just fleeting.”), ebullient to the disenfranchised twenty five year olds that made up the core of the Mary Chain’s audience.
Nine Million Rainy Days, maxed to the walls with genial playing and plying brought a stoved sloved groove before The Stone Roses and Oasis perfected the formula, one of the most excitingly placid rock tunes of the eighties. Guitar amped and ready, this proved a shoe gazer two sizes than anything My Bloody Valentine would ever accomplish.
Braced, placed and three chord ready, Darklands had the veracity and tenacity of a live gig (and at thirty five minutes, a good fifteen minutes longer than their notoriously short early twenty minute sets), exciting, cerebral and cool, one of the best Scottish albums of all time.