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  • Album Reviews |


    Stutter( 1986 )
    Skullduggery / Scarecrow / So Many Ways / Just Hip / Johnny Yen / Summer Songs / Really Hard / Billys Shirts / Why So Close / Withdrawn / Black Hole

    There was a reason James made an early impact, and this is it. It sounds absolutely nothing like their later material, in case you were wondering. The only common factor in the sound is Tim Booth - although the guitars do remind you of their much later single 'Sometimes' if you squint a little. This is a weird kind of folk music almost, electrified folky guitars but not exactly folk rock or Fairport Convention either. It sounds utterly English in execution - perhaps this is some of the reason it sounds vaguely folky. Anyways, it's certainly striking. It didn't sell of course.

    The opening song 'Skullduggery' explodes with a mess of folky guitars and Tim sounds absolutely out of his head and insane. Almost an Irish jig, this track. 'Scarecrow' just happens to be one of my favourite songs of all time. A fabulous set of intriguing lyrics, those electric folky guitars and an extraordinary vocal performance, all stretched words and so happy. 'So Many Ways' continues with the fascinating and great sounding lyrics, and keeps the album uptempo. 'Just Hip' has impossibly fast bass and drums and a very playful vocal performance. Another classic arrives with 'Johnny Yen' which could have been a hit, but wasn't of course. Could fit right onto their hit 'Laid' album anyway. A perfect pop song and very easy and enjoyable to sing along with. By the time 'Summer Songs' arrives, you could be so into the sound of this record. Another fabulous song another stupendous vocal performance. 'Really Hard' is another of those songs that vaguely hints at later James. It's a wonderfull song. 'Billys Shirts' must have sounded great live, fabulous guitar sounds here. An exciting, fast paced action thriller! 'Holler, holler, holler, holler....pleasures of the night....' - wonderful stuff. 'Why So Close' changes the mood, very serious sounding. 'Withdrawn' has a happy, jaunty little rhythm to it and the closing 'Black Hole' the epic an album such as this deserves. Another vocal full of character. A great debut, an album that makes me shiver, laugh and cry.

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    First of all congrats for reviewing them but a review of Strip Mine would have been nice ;-) STUTTER : 5/10 Given the quality of material and raw energy on Jimone and James II ep's the Stutter album is a disappointment with some of the songs sounding somewhat rushed but James standards. Production is very muted and plain meaning songs like So Many Ways are not offered the opportunity to shine as they should leaving Black Hole as the albums outstanding moment as this is the only track to suit this style.

    top of page One Man Clapping ( 1989 )
    Chain Mail / Sandman / Whoops / Riders / Why So Close / Leaking / Johnny Yen / Scarecrow / Are You Ready / Really Hard / Burned / Stutter

    A peculiar form of English folk music continued with James second album 'Stripmine'. That record had been released on WEA subsidary 'Blanco Y Negro' following the collapse of their initial deal with Sire. 'Stripmine' was received as a rather muted follow-up to the sparkling 'Stutter' and lack of sales saw James with no label and no money. They did have a growing live reputation ( and following ) so with the aid of a bank loan self financed this release. A mixture of material drawn from 'Stripmine', 'Stutter' and various early single releases - it makes for a fairly enjoyable listen. It's in keeping with the more 'serious' sound of 'Stripmine' however rather than the more varied 'Stutter'. In short, it's dour! This isn't uplifting joyous music! 'Hymn From A Village' or 'Scarecrow' had been happy songs! Still, good versions of both 'Johnny Yen' and 'Scarecrow' are highlights here in addition to the nearest 'Stripmine' came to a pop song in 'Are You Ready'. This live release did serve a purpose though. They signed to Rough Trade, then Fontana following this record - writing and recording 'Sit Down' along the way...

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    ONE MAN CLAPPING : 8/10 Where the wrongs were righted (almost). Finally songs from Stutter get the breath of life necessary insofar as Really Hard here is so much better than its studio counterpart and the catastrophe of Strip Mine (and album remixed by the record company before release to sound so badly 80s it hurts) is corrected with a superb rendition of Ya Ho. This album is worth its price second hand if only for the bitter Burned the bouncy live version of Hup Springs. But for a truly 10/10 release go buy Village Fire, the 12" that contains James first 2 singles and by far thier best releases with the exception of the mighty Laid album.

    top of page Goldmother 9 ( 1990 )
    Come Home / Government Walls / God Only Knows / You Can't Tell How Much Suffering ( On A Face That's Always Smiling ) / Crescendo / How Was It For You / Hang On / Walking The Ghost / Gold Mother / Top Of The World

    A couple of things have always struck me as being the reason James never quite were perceived as cool enough throughout the nineties. They were always bridesmaid never the bride. 'Sit Down' is central to the reason. You notice 'Sit Down' and 'Lose Control' missing from the tracklisting i've given? That's right! The new remastered release fixes the error, but for many years the only version avaliable of this record featured the lovely 'Crescendo' replaced by 'Lose Control' which was at best an average James song and 'Hang On' replaced by 'Sit Down'. When 'Sit Down' was first issued as a single, it failed to chart. James proceeded onwards, issuing a couple of singles that broke the top forty, major sucess given their previous chart positions ( or lack of! ). 'Goldmother' when issued broke the UK top twenty. Then, some bright soul though of re-issuing the truly wretched singalong that is 'Sit Down'. It sauntered to number two. 'Goldmother' was duly re-issued. But, rather than simply stick 'Sit Down' on as a bonus track - they REPLACED two of the songs here to make way for 'Sit Down' and the aforementioned 'Lose Control'. Not only did the album lose all flow and cohesion and become a significantly inferior product, but 'Sit Down' being such a big hit strangled all life out of James. Their career had received a nuclear blast when all it needed was a gentle prodding. Then again, i'm seemingly one of the few James fans in this world that hates 'Sit Down'. I can't stand it. It's a horrible song, base and obvious and completely lacking in humility and the usual James originality and character. But, as I said, the new remastered edition restores the missing two songs, so some correcting has taken place.

    We open with 'Come Home' one of the two original singles from this record. It hit top forty in the wake of 'Madchester' and all was well. It's not an amazingly brilliant song, it repeats itself a little too often but it is brimming with confidence. 'Goverment Walls' is a marvellous song though. Tim Booths voice simply soars, the lyrics are fascinating and keep you hooked. The singing is the real hook though, the real deal. Fantastic performance and a gorgeous song all round. 'God Only Knows' isn't a version of The Beach Boys classic but rather a rip-roaring rollicking track with a wonderful introduction. Guitars twang and twist to announce the arrival of 'You Can't Tell How Much Suffering...' which is another fabulous song full of hooks and character. Another fine vocal performance. 'Crescendo' is one of the loveliest things James ever did. Little female harmony parts, a heartbreaking atmosphere. It ends the first half of the original album and it's a perfectly structured half in terms of sequencing. The second half kicks off with 'How Was It For You' - a perfect simple little pop song. It's not as crass as 'Sit Down' and in my humble opinion, far superior. 'Hang On' which made way for 'Sit Down' on the second issue of this album is a fine song in keeping with the album so far. It fits, it adds to album. Another great set of vocalising from Tim Booth. He really was in fine voice for these recordings. A special song follows. 'Walking The Ghost' tells a story, is suitably atmospheric and beautiful given the overall performance of everybody involved. Do I mean the vocals are good then? Well, yes! I know it's getting boring for me to say it, but dammit!

    The title song is nearly nine minutes long. It's a happy little silly song that's simply far too long. The groove is kind of addictive I suppose. Depends what mood you are in, I guess. 'Top Of The World' is just faint keyboards, a simple repeating bass figure and Tim Booth, gentle and tender. Oh, and one word of advice if you are considering getting this fine and essential James album. Please do buy the new 2002 edition, or if you can get it, the original CD issue which contained the original tracklisting. The album truly does work so much better that way. 'Goldmother' arriving in the year of The Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses meant that the quality of this record never quite got its due attention. 'Sit Down' got attention of course - but not especially critical acclaim. It was just huge, that's all. Forget about all of that now ( though I obviously haven't! yes, i'm still bitter! ) and just get this record. You won't regret doing so.

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    goldmother was the best album ever by james, wish the dominated the charts now instead of the crap manufactured rubbish.

    top of page Seven ( 1992 )
    Born Of Frustration / Ring The Bells / Sound / Bring A Gun / Mother / Don't Wait That Long / Live A Love Of Life / Next Lover / Heavens / Protect Me / Seven

    Following the success of both 'Sit Down' and 'Goldmother' James were enjoying themselves and brimming with a new found sense of self confidence. That confidence flowed through to both the songwriting and recording of this set of songs. The production received critiscm for it's arms open wide, stadium U2/Simple Minds like sound. It's certainly a glossy and rich production but it doesn't really detract from anything. Opener 'Born Of Frustration' is one of the glossy sounding tracks here but contains a catchy chorus that features a fine Tim Booth falsetto wail. 'Ring The Bells' is just lovely. Another strong vocal performance, faint traces of the groups folky past in the guitars, a happy rolling rhythm - and all is well. 'Sound' was slated upon single release. It's well over six minutes long and takes some time to get going, and just when it seems it's got going, never gets any further. Or, so it would it seem. Everything is not always as it seems and a different judgement is made listening to 'Sound' when it forms part of an album. We have more soaring falsetto from Tim. A nice bass line that repeats hypnotically throughout and a bit later on some slashing guitars. It's a great song!! 'Bring A Gun' is fast, furious and ready for action! Sure, it doesn't sound like 'Stutter' or any of their charming early singles, but look underneath and you'll find the same eccentric and charming quality.

    None of these fine songs so far on the record really display signs of melodic genius or beat you into an excited frenzy. They all just add to a fine, solid record. That's not to say that there aren't moments of genuis here, however. 'Mother' has such a deep haunting quality to it. It's genuinely frightening and moving. 'Don't Wait That Long' follows on from the likes of 'Crescendo' from 'Goldmother'. The vocal makes this completely. Such a wonderful ballad performance, it brings a tear to the eye. 'Life A Love Of Life' does rather suffer under the production. Trumpets, percussion and noise galore sails over a perfectly decent vocal melody but do rather obliterate it in places. Another classic arrives with 'Heavens' which has atmospheric guitars enough to draw comparisons with U2's 'Joshua Tree' record. Tim Booth soars vocally and the whole feel of the song is triumphant, giving a sense of celebration and invitation. Following the rather dull Protect Me', the closing title song proves to be anthemic, memorable stuff. It joins other highlights of this record, adds to the solidly enjoyable songs and surrounds the couple of weaker songs. The result of all of this is a listenable whole that can easily be recommended as a quality piece of work. <

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    Ken Proffitt stonegiant@stonegiant.f9.co.uk
    What do they say these days " All killer - no filler.." that's my take on this album. Poetic, haunting, angry, ironic, it's all here, something for everyone. The quality of tracks is consistently high, some topping the others but overall a truly worthwile album whose low points are still enjoyable high.

    mike mullins mike.mullins@btconnect.com
    In my humble opinion, this is probably one of the finest albums ever made by anyone anytime anywhere.

    William Patroklos68@yahoo.com
    You make some fine points, but Protect Me, however is definitely a high point on the album (James' best imo). Don't Wait That Long is a simply beatiful aural experience.

    top of page Laid 9 ( 1993 )
    Out To Get You / Sometimes / Dream Thrum / One Of The Three / Say Something / Five-O / P.S. / Everybody Knows / Knuckle Down / Low Low Low / Laid / Lullaby / Skindiving

    Introduce Brian Eno! Yeah, James got hooked up with some guy named eno. You know the one.... a balding professor type. Used to work with Bowie, Roxy Music and U2 amongst others? Yeah! Everyone has heard of Eno and he sprinkles something over James here - because this is quite probably their finest work. Well, ok. It is their finest work, but only because this is my review page, this is my site, AND I SAY SO! It didn't sell as much as either 'Seven' or 'Goldmother' of course, mainly because the singles taken from it either weren't really single type songs or were just ever so slightly inferior to previous singles. 'Low Low Low' ended up as a football song, for godssssake! We have, ah, what else? The title song. One of the shortest and bounciest songs here, though ultimately, without too much substance. Fortunately, the rest of the record superb. You know, the songs that WEREN'T singles. All superb. But. BUT! I'm forgetting the marvellous 'Sometimes'. That was a single and not only included a marvellous ringing folky guitar all the way through the track, but also, some of the finest most captivating lyrics Tim Booth has ever written. A piece of near genuis. Take it from me. You don't have to of course, or anything. Chances are, unless you are already a fan of James, you're not even reading this page anyway! If by chances you are, then check out this.

    The opening 'Out To Get You' should appeal to fans of U2's 'The Joshua Tree' for it's immensely atmospheric and beautiful ballad atmosphere. After the highlight that is 'Sometimes', 'Dream Thrum' floats by, appropriately titled and bearing more than a passing Eno influence. Tim Booth in fine voice once more. 'One Of The Three' repeats the spiritual beauty of the opening track, 'Say Something' was released as a single, and bar 'Sometimes' - made for the finest single from this set. 'Five O' and 'PS' which end the first half are impossibly atmospheric and beautiful. And, i'm starting to realise, i'm doing a lousy job of describing this record. Lets try. 'Five-O' opens with a soft, tender vocal. Quiet 'Joshua Tree' type guitar. Floaty violin and additional guitar that sounds like the waves of an ocean, lapping onto a beach with the stars shining bright. All the way through this, the vocals continue, the lyrics continue. Slightly vague, open for interpretation, sounding poetic. We move through the likes of 'Knuckle Too Far' and 'Everybody Knows'. Lesser songs here, not especially even good songs if taken away from the whole work - but arriving as they do half way through the record, adding to the whole. The closing two songs raise the standards again, and are the main reason ( along with 'Sometimes', of course! ) why this album gets such a high grade. 'Lullaby' is as beautiful as song as anyone has ever written. Haunting, faint, echoey, dreamy and heartbreaking. A beautiful Piano interlude. The very last song, 'Skindiving', as several of the songs here do, benefits hugely from the presence of Brian Eno. A high falsetto vocal of some beauty, incredibly picture provoking guitar and bass lines. Well, in themselves they provoke nothing. Combined with the vocals they add the necessary beauty and mood. I feel like I'm floating off a cliff's edge, towards the end, into a deep deep ocean - never to return. A dreaming, drifting sky. The waters cool.

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    Cala www.blondie13828@aol.com
    I absolutely love that someone else adores James "Laid"! No one I know has ever heard of it!

    GAZZA garyhess44@hotmail.com
    Its a masterpiece .One of the best albums of the 90s which sadly didnt sell much . Brian eno applies a perfect production to the songs that brings space and a liquid calm to a selection of turbulent songs. These meditations on lust,spirituality and sorrow were the best songs james came up with , i dont think they ever topped it . Its a very special unique record .

    Pete and Helen Hart
    Our beautiful twin boys were born with this album playing in the background (thank you Bath Hospital). How much more significance could you give to "Dream thrum" or "Lullaby"?

    top of page Whiplash 5 ( 1997 )
    Tomorrow / Lost A Friend / Waltzing Along / She's A Star / Greenpeace / Go To The Bank / Play Dead / Avalanche / Homeboy / Watering Hole / Blue Pastures

    I don't know why there was a four year gap between Laid and this record. I haven't the faintest idea. They did release a hugely experimental album called 'Wah Wah' in the meantime, from which 'Tomorrow' is taken, albeit, re-recorded. It's a fine song. The ringing guitar, melody and strong vocals of James are all present and correct. 'Lost A Friend' includes a strong vocal melody, slightly atmospheric guitar but it dissolves as it goes along. This album was produced by Stephen Hague, with Brian Eno in a 'co-production' role. It's more glossy and aiming for the pop charts than 'Laid' was. That's not a bad thing in itself of course. As long as the songs are good. Well, are they? Hmmm. 'Waltzing Along' is. 'She's A Star' made for a fine triumphant single. But, there is just less 'art' on display here. Nothing as beautiful or atmospheric as the large majority of the 'Laid' album. All fairly standard stuff. 'Greenpeace' is a horrible dance experiment although slightly rescued by a falsetto Tim Booth vocal. And then? 'Go To The Bank'? Really. Really? On a James album? Another dance experiment, it lacks melody and the vocals have been processed. It sounds embarrasing.

    'Play Dead' is another dance track, completely without redemption this time. Where exactly the bass player, the guitar player - etc, etc - are through this song, remains a mystery. 'Avalance' at least has a little life about it before it explodes in a rather dance/indie/rock fashion. Something James were labelled around 1990, simply because they broke the same time as The Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses, etc. They never were an indie/dance crossover, though. They weren't even baggy! They just wrote good songs. A guitar re-appears noticeable for 'Homeboy', though it's not much of a song. 'Watering Hole' is a piece of shit. It sounds fuzzy, which was of course the point, given the technology and programming used through the track. All the music is computer generated. And, before you start. I love The Aphex Twin. I like Orbital and Kraftwerk. I have no objection to music created by machines, if they are used with creativity and intelligence. This is just plain dull, though. Where exactly ARE James, the band? Because all I can hear is Tim Booth. The closing 'Blue Pastures' is at least a proper song, but so minimalistic, it barely exists. This whole record is just so very disapointing. The guitar player would leave in it's wake, just prior to a best-selling hits compilation...

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    Danny danny@leftoffthedial.com
    I usually see eye to eye with you a lot, but with James my taste is a bit different. Whiplash was my 1st James purchase, even though I'd heard some Laid stuff before, so I guess I approached them at a different angle. I think Whiplash & Pleased To Meet You are underrated. The songs you call dancey were never intended to be danced to at all. James using electronics adds a cold icy feel to contrast their warm and inspiring musicianship; and this is crucial to Whiplash's lyrical themes. "Go to the bank" is a full on ridicule of modern capitalist lifestyles. Other lyrics explore relationships where partners are treated similarly as objects and possessions. Confusing Love and Compassion with Money and Disposable Entertainment ("Lost A Friend"). Sort of like mixing acoustic James with synthesizers and technology, right--Their experiments here drive the theme home. It might not be the James sound you're used to, but I think bands should be comended when they develop musically to co! nfront complex themes. The folky chorus of Waltzing along is like a recharge..."May your mind be wide open; May your heart beat strong"...before you plunge into the darker electronic worlds of "Greenpeace", "Go To The Bank", and "Play Dead" a song that I feel is incredibly beautiful and creepy at the same time. If positive human emotions are getting washed out by consumerism, the masking of James' musicianship with soul-less techno beats and squiggles makes this a concept album of staggering depth. Every sound has meaning and the musical tension never loosens up. Trying Whiplash from this perspective might make it more fun for you, but it can't help the god awful cover art. I have no excuses for James on that one.

    John Gladstone on_me_ed@hotmail.com
    Hi there! On your site you say you have no idea why there was a 4 yr break between Laid and Whiplash - James split up circa 1994-5 hence the gap. I was gutted at the time as I'd just got old enough to see them live and they split. They reformed and released Whiplash, then toured. I was at Uni at the time and well chuffed - I finally got to experience James in the flesh!! Quality site by the way!

    Mojo PiN north.mojopin@gmail.com
    Great reviews here, up until this point. Whiplash, although not a brilliant record was in fact a solid one. It was the sound of a band disillusioned and hitting back at the world around them. What was most striking was the quality of the lyrics. Play Dead, not a dance song at all, was essentially a well versed tune about the betrayal of Jesus Christ and it mixed stone cold questioning with an actual intense passion and became one of my favourite all-time James Tunes. Greenpeace too had a great message that at the time (the explosion of the modern hip-hop scene) was sorely necessary. The chaos of the music fit the bill quite well too. Homeboy and Avalanche as well as Watering hole are a bit bland no doubt, not their finest moments, but as far as the record goes it does hold a great atmosphere and some solidly written and produced tunes. It's no Laid and certainly not much like their earlier work but it was a return to fine form. I definitely do recommend it to any po! tential fans. 8/10

    top of page Millionaires 7 ( 1999 )
    Crash / Just Like Fred Astaire / I Know What I'm Here For / Shooting My Mouth Off / We're Going To Miss You / Strangers / Hello / Afro Lover / Surprise / Dumb Jam / Someone's Got It In For Me / Vervaceous

    James are back and full of confidence following their mega selling hits compliation. The confidence shows. Brian Eno has been retained, they've lost Stephen Hague, and thank god. They've rediscovered some of their way with pop music! The guitarist has changed, the folky guitar gone forever, it seems. It's a very loud and 'produced' album, very rich sounding in a sense of money being spent on it. Ultimately, the songs are for the most part, good enough to save the day. Opener 'Crash' for instance. A supremely memorable chorus and much energy throughout. And, oh! Where on 'Whiplash' the dance elements were poorly implemented, here the technology is far better integrated into the overall sound. It does help. And, what's this? 'Just Like Fred Astaire' is a true romantic James classic. The last girl I fell in love with ( and, there haven't been many, you know. and, no. we're no longer together ) inspired me to sing this song round and round in my head for days on end. 'Just met a girl who believes we can fly....' 'I Know What I'm Here For' is still a fine tune, but this time does suffer under the weight of the production. Everything bar the toilet bowl has been thrown in there. It becomes a mess of noise, Tim Booth just about holds it together. A welcome change for 'Shooting My Mouth Off'. It opens with Tim singing accapella. Keyboards enter quietly. It sounds beautiful, until the beats kick in and rather spoil things. It would have made a fine minimalistic, atmospheric track. With the introduction of the dance beats, it just becomes regular.

    'We're Gonna Miss You' sports a great pop chorus, 'Strangers' far less produced ( and better for it ) but forgetting to include a tune. 'Hello' is a fairly forgettable ballad performance, although affecting in places. 'Afro Lover' is bordering on the ridiculous with it's little disco backing, 'Surprise' rather James by numbers. Thankfully, following this dreadful second half, the final two songs save the day and restore this records sense of dignity and respectability. 'Someone's Got It In For Me' has a lovely, weary sounding vocal surrounded by restrained musical backing that captures beauty in places. A few far too loud segments threaten to spoil the track, but don't quite manage to do so. The closing 'Vervaceous' is another restrained and quiet song and actually ends with five seconds of silence. A hugely patchy album, then? Well, yes. But, a couple of proper James songs, proper classic pop songs are included, present and correct. The rest of the record IS fairly average, but overall above that level.

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    top of page Pleased To Meet You 6 ( 2001 )
    Space / Falling Down / English Beefcake / Junkie / Pleased To Meet You / The Shining / Senorita / Gaudi / What Is It Good For / Give It Away / Fine / Getting Away With It ( All Messed Up ) / Alsakan Pipeline

    And, James continued. It was, by now, a long time after the heights of 'Laid' or 'Goldmother' and an eternity away from the likes of 'Stutter'. To their credit, they still give it a go here, though it appears this will be their final ever album. 'Space' is suitably atmospheric and spooky, 'Falling Down' suitably enriched by decent drum work. A treated falsetto vocal a highlight of that song. It's followed by.....followed by, funky bass lines. The ridiculously titled 'English Beefcake' opens very well, actually. Violin enriches the musical track through the introduction. Once again, we get treated vocals and a nod to dance culture. The song is nearly six minutes long though, and doesn't appear to have any actual substance. Oh, i'm sure the lyrics are fairly 'important' but it is actually, just the song title I have a major problem with. Oh, and the songs complete lack of originality and character. 'Junkie' is fairly atmospheric, a decent vocal especially. The title song is so bare, it barely exists before exploding in a fuzzed up mess of noise that really isn't quite executed properly. 'The Shining' is hugely improved by what sounds like a Piano. It might not be, given the technological nature of many of the songs here. It sounds more organic and natural, in any case. It'a a song that works.

    'Senorita' and 'Gaudi' are both James by numbers, the latter particularly suffering under the weight of the dance edged production that simply doesn't suit them. I have no problem with dance music or technology whatsoever. My problem is, it doesn't suit this particular group. A group that started out writing eccentric folky pop songs! I've no problem with a group changing, of course. It just depends what they choose to change TO, and wether they pull it off. U2 famously 'went dance' following 'Rattle And Hum' but they did it rather well. And, to be honest with you, the second side of this record is just so incredibly bad and bland I find it very difficult indeed to sit through. The reason this record gets a grade as high as even a six is the absolutely STUNNING 'Getting Away With It' which, given its company here, seems to have been beamed from a different planet altogether. Guitar, bass, keyboards, drums. Tim Booth in fine voice. A direction for them to follow if they hadn't split up! It's such a good song, so atmospheric, so well recorded and produced. It deserves a better fate than being present on this record. But, what are you gonna do? It is on this record, so this record gets a six.

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    top of page Hey Ma 8 ( 2008 )
    Bubbles / Hey Ma / Waterfall / Oh My Heart / Boom Boom / Semaphore / Upside / Whiteboy / 72 / Of Monsters And Heroes And Men / I Wanna Go Home

    James return, sounding much like they did before they split. Wait, wait, wait! Don't go, they sound refreshed! They've come back with a good album and a great single. In places, 'Hey Ma' almost reminds me of their acclaimed 'Laid' album. That can't be bad, can it? Well, no. So, superb comeback single 'Whiteboy' i'll discuss shortly. What about those James album tracks? James album tracks always were a bit hit and miss, either sounding like potential singles or meandering somewhat pointlessly. Occasionally, we got something rare, a genuinely beautiful and thoughtout James ballad or something that demonstrated genuine music as art. So, first album track up for discussion, picked somewhat at random - Of Monsters And Heroes And Men - is bloody lovely. Tim Booth sounds exactly like he did back in 1993. He's a genuine charasmatic frontman and remains so. Oh, oh - the lovely 'lala' backing vocals here are, well, lovely. James are back then, having passed the random album track test and isn't it great to have them back?

    'Whiteboy' is the best comeback single imaginable from these guys. Stupendous lyrics, a pop gold thing with diamonds and bling and very funny with it, too - My mum says I look like Yul Brenner / Too old for Hamlet . Too young for Lear / Got a shaved head lost weight fakir / Got a pierced lip cos itís hip to appear queer. 'Semaphore' sounds like a lost 'Laid' outtake, all spaces and atmosphere, delicate guitar and Tim Booth singing lullabies. Even better is the album closer, 'I Wanna Go Home', which briefly sounds like Nick Drake has been resurrected before Tim Booth turns it firmly into the kind of quality James tune we used to expect, but somehow lost from them as the 90s progressed. 'I Wanna Go Home' gradually builds up into an uplifting anthemn and I didn't really want to use that word in association with James, lest somebody brings back up that Simple Minds comparison the NME unfavourably and unkindly made in 1992. No, James are firmly back and whether they sell lots of records again or not, I don't care. I like them again and i'm glad to be able to say that.

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    top of page The Night Before 7 ( 2010 )
    It's Hot / Crazy / Ten Below / Porcupine / Shine / Dr Hellier / Hero

    I must say I usually do enjoy a new James album, however slightly old-fashioned they now seem to have become, but I also miss that folky edge that powered their records right through to the memorable, ringing guitar pattern that made 'Sometimes' so popular from their 1993 album, 'Laid'. 'The Night Before' and 'The Morning After' are both essentially mini-albums yet also long-enough to classfy as albums proper which is how i'm taking them. 'The Night Before' contains the poppier material, 'The Morning After' the softer material. For those that really liked the pop James circa 'Whiplash', opening track 'It's Hot' seems to come from a similar place. With a fast-paced, pulsating bass line, subtle lead guitar and then keyboards this is a layered track with strong Tim Booth vocals. It lacks an anthemic chorus but stirs the emotions all the same. It's a passionate track for a bunch of forty-somethings to record, I believe. I would strongly guess that James are still a fine live act - something their albums rarely managed to be as good as, eg, James in a live setting. 'Seven' was the worst offender for that, a great bunch of songs that just dammit, sounded far better live. Anyway, i'm moving slightly away from the point. 'The Night Before' contains Seven tracks running to thirty or so minutes of confident sounding James material that no doubt will only sell a fraction of copies their records of the nineties did. That's not particular any reflection on quality, of course. Well, 'The Night Before' reached number twenty in the UK whilst comeback 'Hey Ma' reached number ten.

    'Dr Hellier' is one of the better tracks, very well constructed pop/rock and to think James were once described as 'jangle'. No jangle to the guitars here, just a finely honed and experienced rhythm section, barely noticeable guitar in terms of providing melody and Tim Booth effortlessly soaring over the top, still writing interesting lyrics. I can't help but feel slightly disappointed by the record though. In reality, it's two potential hits 'It's Hot' and 'Crazy' surrounded by well meaning but ultimately fairly pointless solid-filler. Only 'Ten Below' hints at the depth of James circa 'Laid', still easily their best work.

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    top of page The Morning After 6 ( 2010 )
    Got the Shakes / Dust Motes / Tell Her I Said So / Kaleidoscope / Rabbit Hole / Make for This City / Lookaway / Fear

    Jim Booth remains a decent lyricist and indeed, this second mini album that naturally follows from 'The Night Before' sports intelligent messages and themes, yet musically seems too same for my liking. James are middle-aged (so am I) yet you have to question the thinking behind releasing two thirty-minute long mini albums. Well, is the US they were released together as one CD and the lack of real stand-outs on either mini-ep is the real killer to the thinking behind the seperate releases, as one album these tracks would have resulted in something of a James let-down. As 'mini-lps', even if the releases don't match previous artistic heights, the band can simply say, well, you need to judge them differently! That's not to say there isn't interesting material here, of course. James remain a band capable of putting melodies together in a pleasing and satisfactory way. Opener 'Got The Shakes' is one of the finest here, bendy sounding guitar notes remind a listener James were once guitar-led, and Tim Booth vocally sounds exactly the same as he ever did, his vocal chords betraying no signs of old age. It's a song about alcoholism and as well as the guitar sports fine, throbbing and effective bass lines. Second track 'Dust Motes' contrasts well, a contemplative Piano ballad, voice and Piano and Booth ooohing and ahhing most effectively amidst the other, hardly heard, musical textures before the bass and drums kick in and rather spoil the effect.

    'Tell Her I Said So' sees half the band seemingly auditioning to become members of U2, it doesn't quite sit easily together with the disco-tinged (only tinged!) bass play plugging bravely and annoyingly away. 'Kaleidoscope' is a slow-paced ballad with what one might think are heart-felt lyrics, perhaps they are, but this plodding slice of middle of the road indie wallpaper is hardly likely to get too many people excited unless it comes on the radio on a Sunday afternoon and makes you happily nod off into sleep. Well, takes all sorts, depends what you want from your music, I guess. The final lyric does cut with mentions of cancer and 'you don't have much time', but lyrics alone aren't always enough. 'Rabbit Hole' is my favourite cut, particularly the ridiculous and all too brief 'Rabbit hoooollllleeee! vocal refrain s from Tim Booth which reminds this listener of the more playful nature of James, now seemingly forgotten. Talking of forgotten, the final three tracks pass by nicely and you just can't register them after they've finished playing, always a flaw.

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    top of page this page last updated 29/04/14

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