James – [Album]

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

James may never exactly be forgiven in the minds of some listeners for getting “Laid” on the radio in 1993, and the band guaranteed they'd have a tough row to hoe when they allowed that same song to be the last thing people heard after watching a teenager defile a pie on the silver screen but, seventeen years after the first event and eleven after the second, the band at least deserves credit for surviving the stigma they called upon themselves – even if they didn't break any new ground the five albums released between 1994 and 2008. The records since Laid have pretty much just come and gone through neither revered nor reviled, but the frustrating thing for the band (certainly) and (likely) for everyone else has been that, no matter what, “Laid” is the single most memorable moment in the band's songbook; because everything so far has been compared to that moment, James would have to do something remarkable to finally live "Laid" down, and they never have.

Part of the reason the band has been stuck in a rut is that James has spent the years since they got “Laid” trying to play the same trick twice with limited success. The band has remained  in its' “college years” now long after graduation – and that's the reason The Morning After The Night Before is so refreshing; after what has seemed like a comically long time, James has finally stepped up, received their cat skin and started moving on with The Morning After The Night Before. This new album (originally planned as two separate EPs – “The Morning After” and “The Night Before”) finds the band very consciously changing directions and conceptsand no one (neither fan nor detractor) will be able to say that the change isn't good.

Disc One plays true to its' name (The Morning After) and starts languidly as if to illustrate the band's new beginning. Singer Tim Booth seems desperate to prove that his band's not spent yet as he takes care to enunciate the words, “Don't tell me it's over” amid ethereal guitars and spare but powerful drumming. Because of the writing (phrases and images of a very final nature including “three strikes,” “going under” and “hell freezes over” appear in almost every other line here) and the rather lugubrious tenor of the song itself, listeners are left with the impression that even the band knows it's crunch time – they either suck it up and move forward or fade into obscurity. In effect, something has to change and it does; as further ruminations like “Dust Motes,” “Tell Her I Said So” and “Kaleidoscope” play out, James carefully picks itself up with plaintive  sentiments and very subdued performances to illustrate that the band is capable of more than one emotional state and to show detractors that they know their extended adolescence is over.

Again in keeping with the disc's title (The Night Before), James does indeed lighten up for disc two, but it's not a return to any old ground by any stretch of the imagination. Rather than dive headlong into vats of sugar to contrast the dour overtones of Disc One, James offers a more even and mature permutation of guitar-driven pop on The Night Before; it is more cleanly tempered than the material the band basically built its' name on in the Nineties. Songs like “Shine,” “Porcupine” and “Dr. Hellier” all strike a more positive pose than any of the material on The Morning After that isn't quite so sweet as “Laid.” That sort of precarious balance proves to suit the band and James wears it comfortably as the guitars punch through with a bit more oomph without grandstanding, and Booth's songcraft shines, renewed.

Taken as a whole set, a believable case is made for the possibility of The Morning After The Night Before being James' keystone release that no one could have ever seen coming. Here, the band finally proves that they've been capable of growing and producing a solid album that reflects their age. No one could have possibly known they had it in them, which makes the discovery of this album a true joy.



The Morning After The Night Before
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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