Because I know that most people who like the Jesus & Mary Chain are going to automatically pick up Freeheat’s debut full-length album, Back on the Water, I can dare to spend a whole paragraph messing with anagrams. Rather than Freeheat, they can be Earth Fee, an environmental group bent on charging people karma points for how many bugs they’ve squished over their lifespans. They could be Reef Hate, a sequel to Cape Fear in which the Australian daughter of Max Cady lures the younger members of the Bowden family to their deaths, by shark and croc attacks! Or they could be Fear Thee, a hardcore Christian metal band, which would actually make the title of their album hilarious.
There’s just no getting around it, Freeheat is essentially Jesus & Mary Chain, the sequel. Jim Reid might have broken up the previous band officially before the turn of the century (man, when I say it like that, they sound wicked old!), but the style of the J&MC has been going strong in Reid’s new band Freeheat. Joining Reid in the place of his brother is guitarist Ben Lurie, who was also in that previous band, and Nick Sanderson and Romi Mori of the Gun Club. But essentially the show is all Reid’s. The fuzzed out, druggy guitars and low, loping vocals make me want to call this album Yes, Honey’s Still Dead.
The likeness to Reid’s former endeavor, who are getting new life thanks to a reissue of their original five studio albums, reminds me of Ben Folds leaving his `five.’ No, not in musical style, but in the relation between the frontman and the band. No one’s doubting that Jim and William Reid made a hell of a team, but like Folds, it’s apparent Jim didn’t need his brother or the rest of the band, except I suppose for Ben Lurie. This was not a Morrissey and Marr situation where both could flourish but would never again capture the magic that was the Smiths. Jim does indeed capture the magic of the Chain, reviving it seven years after their initial demise.
There are a whopping seventeen tracks on Back on the Water, with more than half of them being live tracks recorded at Amsterdam’s Paradiso. The other songs are studio tracks, but it’s difficult to tell which are actually better. The songs flow so seamlessly that it’s sometimes hard to tell which ones are live and which aren’t. Studio track “Keep On Truckin'” kicks off the album and gets a little blue towards the end when he rhymes two other words with Truckin’. Tee-hee! “What Goes Around,” one of the live numbers, follows, and was previously featured as the b-side to the single, “Down.” Listening to it, you’d think that the Velvet Underground hadn’t ever really gone away, instead, their rock and roll souls reincarnated into bands like the J&MC, Echo & the Bunnymen, the Dandy Warhols and now Freeheat. Songs like “Dead End Kids” further that theory with its gauzy rolling guitar lines, squeaky feedback and drawling lyrics. “Get On Home” is one of the standouts, played in two forms, both live and in studio, which makes me believe that they think it’s a worthy track as well. When the layered guitars kick in after a minute’s time, you’re transported back to the early nineties when My Bloody Valentine and the Chain blew your minds the first time.
Jack Black, who we probably quote way too often, but then again, High Fidelity is this generation’s Easy Rider, said as Barry, “the Jesus & Mary Chain picked up where your precious Echo & the Bunnymen left off.” If that’s true, then Freeheat has picked up where J&MC left off. Figuring that Freeheat is the progeny of the Jesus & Mary Chain, does that make it the Jesus Chain? Yet again, making the title of the album freakin’ hilarious. These arty Scottish types just crack me up.