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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The reformed James just keep getting better, 17 April 2010
This review is from: The Night Before (Audio CD)
When I listened back to the two "new" tracks on "fresh as a daisy" the recent singles compilation of James single back catalogue I had no idea that just three years down the line they would be making music that not only is on a par with past album releases but in all probability BETTERS them. I don't say this lightly given the fact I have followed the band for nearly 20 years. Hey Ma was a fantastic return to form after a couple of patchy albums and this was in no small part attributed that the reformed James was the "definitive" line up in my eyes, particularly Larry Gott's return to the band as he was such an immense part of the songwriting contribution prior to his departure in 1996. No offence to the two ex members that tried replacing Larry but it didn't really work - it was akin to Fleetwood Mac being without Lindsay Buckingham or U2 without the Edge, and no mickey-taking meant but James did lose their edge after Larry left. What followed were two albums where James really lost their way and by 2001 it wasn't a great surprise to see them call it a day. I was most pleased to see them return in 2001 with their best line-up and this boded well for future James material...

So Hey Ma came along exactly two years ago and was splendid record, worthy of a place in anyone's record collection and contained a handful of their best-ever songs. The album was very uptempo and bright musically despite some dark and melancholic music. The songs had room to breath and grow. I found out about this new concept of a mini-album in an interview last year that Jim Glennie let slip the band would release two mini-albums in 2010. The band used an innovative way of working via an FTP server which allowed members to communicate musically from wherever they live in the world; USA, Portugal, Scotland, England it didn't matter -the results are spectacular. Lee Baker, the producer has really understood how to get the best out of the band but in a different way to Eno. His spectre hangs over the band in a very positive way, they have channelled his "off-the-wall" methods to great and in fact wondrous effect.

I am disappointed that this is not a full length-album as the quality of the songs are simply stunning and is an expertly produced record that sounds fresh, dark, brooding, uptempo, sexy and slightly claustrophic. But yet somehow the band have remained true to their roots, none more so than Ten Below - a dark barnstorming affair lyrically about singer Tim Booth's horrible time in boarding school where he spent his formative years. This is magically coupled with James ability in the 90s to write hit after hit after hit. The keyboard and guitar motifs work very well in tandem and Tim delivers an energetic vocal delivery that is passionate, moving and affecting.

I am jumping around a bit in this review, It's hot, the opener is a very sexy affair in sound and in lyrics where Tim is illustrating verbally the intricacies of conception. It reminds me for some reason of Crash from the 1999 album 'Millionaires'. They both have a pulsating bassline, I think on It's Hot delivered by an electronic bass instrument rather than a bass guitar. Either way it's fantastic. The phrase "whooaaaa a lep of faith" is chanted several times and the song kicks into a crescendo of a repeated "it's hot inside the chrysalis, our cell create a dreamy bliss...a leap of faith and out of it a floating kiss that loves to exist - magic stuff.

Crazy was chosen to be the "Focus" track or "single" by the band and I suppose it is the closest tune on the album that comes close to the type of single James produced in the 1990s - those with The Best Of will probably understand this. It's quite direct and another autobiographical lyric about Tim's fight with Liver disease in his teens/twenties and how he would have hallucinations that made him think he was 'Crazy' and how he thoguht he might have been committed. Thankfully for himself and us all he recovered. The song is reminiscent of The Triffids "Bury Me Deep in Love" and bears a similarity to Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark". Some fans have even compared it to a Wham track! It is quite a derivative affair and nothing new here but it is extremely memorably and catchy - a bit like Whiteboy was on Hey Ma - some might see it as a bit throwaway - it sits just over the edge of being a valid and enjoyable James single.

Porcupine is a very dark but enjoyable affair with a thrilling chorus - a review suggested it doesn't have a chorus, maybe they were mixing up the tracks but Pocupine has a stunning chorus and althoguh I referenced the Edge earlier the guitar playing on the track reminds me U2's "Joshua Tree" days in the late 80s. I think it's about being guarded and not letting people in emotionally. It ends disappointingly as at the live shows in 2008 where it was originally premiered it had a fantastic Saul Davies violin outro. I'm annoyed this hasn't been included as it was utterly fantastic live and would have been a great way to end the track.

At the recent 2010 live shows the song Shine was really uninspired, a mess and generally one of the poorest songs I had heard by James live. However on record it is a barnstormer! It has a few different sections which can make it appear disjointed on first listen, but it really is an old-school James track. I love the way the guitar follows the vocal in places and the opening riff and end to the track is simply awesome. If you like Seven, Gold Mother and Laid era of James this will really delight you.

Dr Hellier was one of the best tracks on the preview and really is unlike anything I've heard James do before - perhaps save on Wah Wah with a very faint resemblance to Jam J but nothing more. 70s era Rolling Stones guitar sounds meet Pixies/Bowie/Rocks-era Primal Scream in terms of the sound of the song which is quite racous and bluesey in sound with quite a heavy duty rock riff running through the song. Lyrically this is about one of Tim's favourte subjects; war. We have heard several tracks in the past along these lines; Government Walls, Hey Ma, Mother, 72 etc but the lyrics are clever in this song and perhaps in places remind me of Richey Edwards, particularly in how unobtrusive they are - dvery difficult to decipher who Tim is referring to. Thematically we are set in the Iraq/Afghanistan conflict bu the song appears to be about someone along the lines of Dr David Kelly - not sure on this one! The song has a refrain of "on and on and on...." and then builds up to a crescendo at the end forming the outtro of the song which is basically a blast of guitars curtosy of Larry messing with the whammy bar on his guitar and really "going for it" in a way James sometimes should but don't on record.

Final track Hero is a real oddity this is basically a mangled anthem that is extremely experimental with a discordant vocal performance over strange keyboards with Tim telling you 'you have to change'. Very hard to describe what this sounds like, Tim sounds very different to how he sounds on other tracks and is a bizarre way to close the album. It sounds like a track that had something going for it but wasn't quite strong enough for inclusion on the album then they mashed it up a bit and then though "this will do". Very strange, hard to get into and apart from the Porcupine ending the only song where they put a foot wrong. Out of seven tracks that is quite remarkable.

This is a James record for James fans all over the world. It will hardly win over any new fans but should please the loyal fanbase. It is a mixture of the familiar, unfamiliar, the new and the old, a return to their roots in places, more expressive in others, more subtle in places, more extreme than ever before in others. For me it is a groundbreaking James record. It has the songs of Gold Mother married with the experimentalism of Whiplash and Wah Wah with the kind of production values you would find on the Seven record just updated to 2010. If you liked Hey Ma it is very different, James occupy a lot of space sonically and is darker, denser and perhaps less accesible than Hey Ma. But with a few listens all becomes clear and there are areas of light such as Crazy. This is a fantastic record. A band 29 years old by rights should not be making their best music of their career. It just shows you how very special James are. I treasure them, I hope you will too.

Score: 9/10
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 8 Sep 2010 11:23:41 BDT
N. Messenger says:
'Crazy' 'Dancing In The Dark'? Hmm...don't hear that myself.
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