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Nigel Williamson, The Times
"CLONE us in a test tube, sell us to the multitude," sang James on their recent hit single Destiny Calling , an acidly intelligent analysis of the ephemeral nature of pop fame. "Tell us when our time is up," the song went on to ask plaintively. Of course, two years ago James themselves seemed uncertain whether to continue, but they found their second wind, and the band's current sell-out tour and a chart-topping greatest hits album suggest that the obituaries will have to wait a little longer.
Once the darlings of the Manchester indie scene, James were turned into stadium stormers by singalong hits such as Sit Down and Come Home in the early 1990s. Then they seemed to lose it and a three-year silence ensued. There was an encouraging return with last year's Whiplash , but their only British appearance at the Reading Festival was a low-octane affair, the gamin charm of the all-dancing, all-singing Tim Booth subdued by a neck injury that left him in a surgical collar.
Now, after the pain, the band is ready to enjoy the gain. The phenomenal success of the Best of album has been re-energising and at the Brixton Academy they were in triumphant form in front of an adoring crowd, many of them dressed in the petal-printed insignia which have become the James uniform.
On stage the energetic power pop of the hits took on a rockier aspect, driven by the edgy and often psychedelic guitars of Saul Davies and Adrian Oxaal and the amphetamine drumming of David Baynton-Power who, just when you think he has hit overdrive, seems able to summon up the capacity to shift up yet another gear. Eschewing new material, the band chose to run through the Best of album in its entirety. It was perhaps an unadventurous approach, but there was no doubting it was what the crowd wanted and it further illustrated what a consistent band James have been over the years.
Comparisons with other epic stadium rockers such as U2 and Simple Minds are obvious, but although Booth tends towards the melodramatic the songs are always taking unexpected emotional twists and turns. More interesting comparisons are with David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust period on She's A Star , while on Johnny Yen the ghost of Jim Morrison strutted in Booth's skinny persona. His uniquely crowning glory, however, is his howling falsetto, at its startling best on Born of Frustration and Sound . For the final encore they turned inevitably to Sit Down , an inappropriate exhortation which instead provoked communal singing fit to rival a Cup Final crowd.