With all of the excitement over the recent Jesus and Mary Chain reunion, we should give partial credit to Jim and William Reid’s little sister Linda for getting her brothers back together to write, record and perform with her on an album of songs that has just been released under the name Sister Vanilla. This name was actually given to her by her brothers in 1998 when she sang a song on the last Jesus and Mary Chain record, Munki. The song, “Moe Tucker,” was named so because brothers Reid thought that she sounded like the diffident Velvet Underground drummer. Thankfully, the Jesus and Mary Chain are back. They just played two successful shows last weekend in Southern California, including an appearance at the Coachella Festival on Friday evening. This new album sounds an awful lot like the Jesus and Mary Chain as it was mainly written by its two songwriters. In fact, it sounds like Little Pop Rock was more or less an exercise in getting the Reid brothers, who apparently did not speak for years, back to playing music together after a nine year hiatus.
This album has all of the material characteristic of a classic Mary Chain LP. It has some great fuzz guitar laden tracks such as the second track “Jamcolas,” which features Jim, William and Linda on vocals. It is reminiscent of their latter day i.e. Munki garage pop. The brothers both sound youthful and inspired on the track. This is probably the one song that sounds the most like it would be on a proper Jesus and Mary Chain record. Linda tackles a couple of Freeheat (Jim Reid side project) songs in this collection too. “What Goes Around” is quite similar to the original version, but they have added some Enoesque analogue keyboard parts into the mix for this recording. In the song “Down,” a poppier electric song, it sounds like they have used the identical Freeheat backing track while just swapping out Jim’s vocals for Linda’s. Also included is the druggy, experimental dirge TOTP, written by William. This song sounds perhaps the most atypical and unusual in this collection, but is also one of the best on the record.
There are some acoustic songs on Little Pop Rock that sound as if they would have fit well in 1995’s Stoned and Dethroned album. The album’s first track, “Pastel Blue,” actually sounds like a reworked version of the classic b-side New York City that hails from this period. “Slacker” has a mild country feel to it and uses distorted slide guitar as the lead, sounding similar to something off of Mazzy Star’s Among my Swan. There is also a reworking of William’s “Kissaround,” originally a solo recording from 1998. It’s a lethargic, psychedelic folk song that lacks any real time signature yet still sounds cohesive. This version is a bit more trippy than the original with the inclusion of backwards loops and intermittent piano.
As with most Jesus and Mary Chain records, there are a couple of inane rock tracks. The winner of this category goes to “Can’t Stop the Rock” for its title alone. The song itself has a laid back, mid-tempo and pleasant melody, however, the chorus quickly reverts to nonsense with the lyrics “…but, you can’t stop the rock/no, you can’t stop the rock.” This is just too difficult to take seriously. “The Two of Us” is another song originally featured on Freeheat’s Back on the Water album. It is a silly duet between Linda and some fellow named Stephen Pastel that is bland and inessential. The Freeheat version is much better because of the performance, but this version sounds like an entirely different band recorded it. It lacks a full sound, making one wonder if it was a demo of some variety or if it was possibly recorded by a group of Linda’s friends.
For the most part, Little Pop Rock is a satisfying record, as it is marvelous to hear the Jesus and Mary Chain again, at least in some form. It is also somewhat representative of just about every period of their past. There is enough variation here to make the album interesting even if it is essentially a side project. On the downside, it will make the listener yearn that much more for a new Jesus and Mary Chain record. Linda’s vocals aren’t bad, but you’ll find yourself wanting to hear Jim and William doing to lead parts and Linda providing the backing vocals instead of vice versa. All in all, it is a good record that still manages to showcase the unique and influential style of one of the very best bands to emerge during the 1980’s.