Tim Booth, lyricist and vocalist of Manchester, England, songcrafters James, professes to know not a whole lot about the state of pop music.
In fact, he was rather shocked when “Laid,” the title track of the band’s 1993 Brian Eno-produced masterstroke, went on to become one of the most heavily rotated singles of that year. “I hadn’t really seen it’s potential,” claims Booth. “I thought it would wind up a B-side to some single.”
“Laid,” a rousing, 2-1/2-minute nugget of acoustic pop perfection, explored the histrionic, comic nature of sexual politics (as well as the strength of Booth’s lilting falsetto) and earmarked a disc loaded with a fair share of soulfully intimate ballads (“Out to Get You”) as well as emotional folk anthems (“Sometimes”). “Laid” went on to sell 600,000 copies in America, and put James on the map once and for all after the release of a decade’s worth of solid recordings.
But if Booth is going to plead ignorance to the success of that disc, which Eno pushed to be christened after the track “Laid,” then he’ll claim the naming of the band’s eighth and latest disc, this year’s techno, drum and bass-laden “Whiplash,” to be somewhat prophetic on his part: During the commencement of a world tour in support of “Whiplash” earlier this year, Booth injured nerves in his neck, bringing the entire tour — including a scheduled appearance in last month’s Y-100 Summer Festival at the Blockbuster-Sony Music Entertainment Centre in Camden, N.J. — to a grinding halt.
“That’s the irony,” said Booth. “I suppose we should name the next album ‘Health, Wealth And Happiness,’ or something very positive.”
No matter — James will be surfacing at the E-Centre on Saturday as part of Lollapalooza ’97.
Booth’s neck sometimes smarts if he turns it a certain way (which, he reports, is impeding his trademark whirls and spins), but now that James is touting a harder-edged disc utilizing those jungle rhythms that are all the rage, a Lollapalooza tour may be the best outlet to show it off. Or is it?
“No, actually,” explained Booth last week over the telephone from Toronto, where Perry Farrell’s annual traveling marriage of outrageousness and political correctness was stopping. “We go on right before Korn, and (‘Whiplash’) just wouldn’t suit the bill, so we play some more mellow stuff, we slow things down, pull the audiences back a bit. We’re the antidote, I suppose.”
Booth takes pride in adding variety to Lollapalooza by deliberately inhibiting moshing and crowd-surfing. However, there is some disappointment in not being able to showcase the fierce “Whiplash.”
” ‘Laid’ was difficult to tour because it was so low-key,” explained Booth. “We deliberately set out to record a more aggressive album (in ‘Whiplash’) so that we could do a heavier tour. Ah, well, I guess we have to say goodbye to that one.”
Booth was a drama student at Manchester University when he first met his future band mates in the early 1980s. The fledgling group named itself after Irish novelist James Joyce and signed with the legendary Manchester label Factory Records in 1983, around the same time fellow Mancunians The Smiths were originating and New Order was hitting it big “Blue Monday.”
James made its contribution to the “Madchester” scene of 1989 with both the oddball anthem “Sit Down” and the baggy flower-print shirts that became a fashion staple of the rave movement. And while The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays may now be things of the past, James is still kicking with “Whiplash,” as the band crosses over into the realm of electronica and beyond.
“Whiplash” was produced by onetime New Order knob twirler Stephen Hague, with some input from Eno. “They worked together, yet they work very differently,” said Booth. “Brian moves in a big, bold sweep, and Stephen works step-by-step.”
Booth noted he and his band mates often record “way too many songs” for each record. And so, in 1994, the double-disc set “Wah Wah,” a collection of Eno-produced outtakes of experiments and improvisations from the “Laid” sessions, was released.
Booth temporarily jumped ship last year to record “Booth And The Bad Angel” with film composer and David Lynch crony Angelo Badalamenti. “That was a necessary thing,” explained Booth. “I needed to take the weight (of James) off my shoulders and shuffle the deck a bit and leave them to carry on. And I’m pleased. ‘Whiplash’ is a good album.”
But was the title a harbinger of bad things to come?
“I think every songwriter has psychic powers,” says Booth. “It can have magical effects but can work negatively as well as positively. I don’t quite think some of these bands out there realize what they’re writing and singing. I mean, something like ‘Kill your mother and (rape) your father’ can be an awfully negative mantra, don’t you think?”