The alternative rock band James, originally from Manchester, England, first appeared on the music scene in the 1980’s, found success in the 1990’s and continue to draw sell-out crowds at live performances today. After a few changes of band members, break-ups and a reunion, James is back with their most recent album, “La Petite Mort” (2014). The album reveals the talented band, still at the height of creativity, more personal and mature perhaps, but with all the wit and poetry fans enjoy in their music. Having topped the charts in the U.K., they found the U.S. charts a tougher nut to crack. Their album “Laid” with the provocative title track a huge hit among the college set, reached #3 on the U.K. charts, but only reached #72 on the U.S. charts in 1993.
As part of the “Madchester” music scene in the 1980’s, James joined The Smiths on their “Meat is Murder” tour in 1985. By 1989, the band found its stride with seven members- singer Tim Booth, bass guitarist Jim Glennie, guitarist Larry Gott, guitarist/violinist Saul Davies, keyboard player Mark Hunter, drummer David Baynton-Power, and trumpeter/percussionist Andy Diagram. Their unique, multilayered sound and evocative lyrics drew fans to their music and live shows.
Early hits for James, including the single “Come Home” reached #84 on the U.K. charts in 1989 and #32 when it was rereleased in 1990. “Sit Down” only reached #77 in 1989, but subsequently made it to #2 when it was rereleased in 1991, and to #7 when rereleased again in 1998.
In 1993, James toured the U.S. with music legend Neil Young. The acoustic performances brought out another level of creativity in the band and resulted in the recording of two albums, “Laid” and “WahWah.” The hugely successful “Laid” with amazing tracks including the rousing “Sometimes” and soulful “One of the Three” overshadowed the experimental “WahWah” that followed it. In 1997, the band released another successful album, “Whiplash” with its first single “She’s a Star” reaching #9 on the U.K. charts. James’ “The Best Of” compilation album appeared in 1998 and hit #1 in the U.K. From 2001 to 2007, the band was basically on hiatus. Tim Booth pursued solo projects, but returned to James after jamming with his bandmates and penning new songs with them. Performing live reinforced the reformation of the band and James’ fans were thrilled when in 2008 a new album, “Hey Ma” was released.
With his signature, clear tenor voice, lead singer Tim Booth conveys more emotion in a whisper than most singers can with a scream. The band clearly revels in their creative process as a team. James’ “Hey Ma” featured liner notes with detailed description on the making of the album from three band members, Booth, Glennie and Gott. The insights into the creative process are a treat for fans wondering how this talented band works. Their revelations are candid, thoughtful and charming, much like their music. If you’re not already in love with James for their music, you will be after reading the liner notes. Tim reveals in the liner notes that the lyric for the chorus of the song “Hey Ma,” “came in the initial jam” and that “Hey Ma,” “Could have been a great pop song if it weren’t for the lyric.” Inspired by the post-9/11 world, and anti-war sentiment, the line “Hey ma the boys in body bags coming home in pieces” is far too potent an image for a mainstream pop song and indeed it clashes with the upbeat tempo of the music, creating a feeling of dislocation tinged with hope that is profound and quintessentially James.