History will record Jesus Jones as a one-hit wonder (1991’s “Right Here, Right Now”), a shoe-in for the inevitable ’90s retrospectives to come. The truth is that the London quintet started in an interesting place and went downhill from there, ultimately buried by frontman Mike Edwards’ over-reaching sonic ambitions.
Infatuated with American hip-hop, New York guitar noise and British dance music, Jesus Jones — named following a Spanish vacation during which natives referred to all of the musicians as Jones (the Jesus is supposed to be pronounced Hay-zeus) — made quite an initial splash, playing busy, sample-heavy dance rock. Producer Craig Leon helps load the grooves of Liquidizer with constant activity: ringing telephones, sirens, meaty power chords, squealy feedback and insistent disco drum beats. The band’s superior melodic intent to stylistic soulmates Pop Will Eat Itself resulted in a jacked-up blend that worked for both the ears and the feet. That the album is — with one exception, a sluggish redo of Crazyhead’s “I Don’t Want That Kind of Love” — basically a set of variations on one brilliant song (“Move Mountains”) shouldn’t discourage potential disciples. Judicious CD track programming is recommended.
Live captures the band in Chicago, performing four songs from the debut (including, of course, “Move Mountains”) and a new one, “Barry D. Is Next to Cleanliness,” a profane sample-thon. The very vocal audience adds to the fun.
Doubt doesn’t have the bursting freshness (or repetitiveness) of its predecessor, but it became Jesus Jones’ moment in the mainstream sun. Edwards (also the band’s songwriter) apparently took criticisms of Liquidizer to heart, and endeavored to mix things up a bit. He sprinkles superb, shuffling dance rock (“International Bright Young Thing”) with slower, more thoughtful morsels (most notably the XTC-echoing “Welcome Back Victoria”) and one exceptionally grating noisefest (“Stripped”). The optimistic “Right Here, Right Now,” inspired by the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union and other international events, became a deserving pop hit, snaking Edwards’ infectious melody over a subtle but subversive hip-hop beat. The American edition contains one track (“Are You Satisfied”) not included on the UK album.
Then there’s Perverse, which enjoys the historical distinction of being the first album recorded entirely (except for Edwards’ vocals) on computer. For all its sonically dense, in-your-face attack, this is one floppy-disc fusillade that flops. Form takes precedent over substance, and Edwards and producer Warne Livesey pump up the electronic fuzz tones and industrial guitar riffs at the expense of songs’ character. Occasionally the tunes will out: the hushed quality of “Yellow Brown” is effective, and a firm, unfettered groove buoys “The Right Decision”; clean production and a powerful arrangement make “Idiot Stare” the album’s best track. Beyond that, however, Perverse makes sonic rubble of Jesus Jones’ already slight virtues.