With the possible exception of John Major, JAMES were 1990’s most spectacular surprise success. They began the year as indie cult heroes with a spell of failure on a major behind them, and ended it as chart regulars with a massive, obsessive following and a reputation as one of the nation’s most thrilling live bands. For every old supporter who bemoaned the way James smoothed some of the rough edges from their early, quirky noise, there were 100 new converts.
The first obvious sign of the band’s rapidly rising status came when their single “How Was It For You?” went Top 30 in May. It was a glorious, uplifting summer song, a celebration of post-coital euphoria entirely free from laddish sexual boasting. “Gold Mother”, the album released in June, confirmed that it was no fluke. James were just as convincing being coldly furious and determined (“Government Walls”) or achingly lonely and vulnerable (You Cant Tell How Much Happiness (sic) [On A Face That’s Always Smiling)”.
A series of major live triumphs began around the same time. James were one of the biggest hits of the Glastonbury Festival despite an unpromising mid-afternoon time slot, and that was followed by two sold-out, delirious nights at Blackpool’s huge Empress Ballroom. Meanwhile, a remixed version of the surging, anthemic “Come Home” became James second hit single in July.
The year ended with more major label live dates – an AIDS benefit at Brixton Academy, and two nights back on home ground at Manchester G-Mex-and another hit single. “Lose Control” sees James making a diversion into dance music without compromising their character.
James’ big breakthrough was undoubtedly helped by the baggy movement, but they’re too unashamedly intelligent to be part of that tribe. They were unstoppable this year – and their momentum is still building.