The Jesus And Mary Chain - Head On

23 Apr
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On its surface, the 1989 single “Head On” shouldn’t be my favorite Mary Chain number. The lack of layers of feedback reveal the band is peddling a rather straightforward arrangement; the most noticeable bursts of guitar noise are in the form of a ‘50s-style riff William Reid trots out between verses. More unpalatable to my sensibilities is the song’s reliance on synth bass and a drum machine, utilized to make up for the Reids’ lack of a full group at that stage. The synthetic rhythmic section robs the Mary Chain of much-needed thrust, and though I’m partial to dated-sounding synth bass in choice contexts, the most unflattering task it can be made to do in my opinion is to pound out strict root-note eighth notes. Which is exactly what happens on this track.

So why do I love “Head On” so much? Chalk it all up to the attitude, my friends. I place so-called rock ‘n’ roll attitude low on my list of musical priorities (all the posturing in the world means nothing to me if your melodies are weak and your riffs suck), but here Jim Reid has his hooks in me from the first word go with the understated yet utterly self-assured way he delivers his lyrics. Simply put, on “Head On” Reid sounds like the coolest guy on the planet, tossing off killer lines like “The way I feel tonight / Oh I could die and I wouldn’t mind” with laconic confidence. Even when the guitars do roar at the climax of each chorus, Jim Reid steals his brother’s thunder, first with “I can’t stand up / I can’t cool down / I can’t get my head off the ground”, and then “I take myself to the dirty part of town / Where all my troubles can be found”. Where depending on the occasion Reid’s detachment as a frontman can convey everything from mannered distance to hostile indifference, on “Head On” his stance places him as the deserved center of attention, an unwavering oasis of rockstar calm around which the rest of the song orbits around.


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