Certain Songs #771: The Jesus and Mary Chain – “On The Wall”

Album: Darklands
Year: 1987

The Sunday morning coming down to Psychocandy’s wild, out-of-control Saturday night, Darklands was dominated by slow, languorous ballads, which would have never worked for me had they also not been so epic and gorgeous.

And the most epic and gorgeous of all was William Reid’s dreamy “On The Wall,” which showed up near the end of the second side and completely took it over.

Out of all of the songs on Darklands, “On The Wall” was the one that made the best use of the goddamned drum machine, not so much for the programming, but because the relentless tick-tick-tick-tick of the fake hi-hat was utterly on point for a lyric where William Reid confesses his self-loathing and fear of inaction in one fell swoop.

Life in a sack
Is coming back
I’m like the clock
I’m like the clock
I’m like the clock

On the wall
On the wall
On the wall

But of course, here’s the thing: even without the noise and even with the goddamned drum machine, the Reids remained masters at arranging a song. In fact, that was the whole point of Darklands, to show that the noise was just an aspect of what they could do. So the slow build during the second half of the chorus of “On The Wall”, followed by a lovely lowdown guitar lead belies the stasis he’s singing about even more than the relentless tick-tick-tick-tick of the goddamned drum machine.

In the end, riding on a steady beat while the lowdown lead is tunneling through large (but not noisy!) guitars, “On The Wall” takes on a stately grandeur all its own.

Also wanna give a shout-out to the “On The Wall” demo, which showed up on the 1988 odd-and-sods compilation, Barbed-Wire Kisses, which is up-tempo from the start, and features a pair of chiming guitars that play off of each other like vintage New Order.

It’s remarkable, because it’s exactly the same same song, but they could have walked into a studio and recorded it as a rousing up-tempo song, and it would have probably worked nearly as well. But of course, that wasn’t the mood they were going for.

Fan-made video for “On The Wall”

“On The Wall (demo version)”

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