James - The Night Before
Inextricably linked with the ‘Madchester’ phenomenon James were always a square peg in a round hole. While their baggy neighbours were measuring their flares James could already boast a career spanning back to the Morrissey approved Village Fire EP which blended traditional folk with erratic, introspective indie. A quintessentially English band their deep roots contained reserves which ensured a longevity beyond that ecstasy fuelled fad and the band which was once better known, and probably recompensed, for t-shirt sales than record sales is still going strong.
There have been well publicised problems along the way but James are still here and, even more remarkably, this is as strong a record as they’ve released since those early EPs. There’s no obvious single a la ‘Sit Down’ but The Night Before succeeds as an album, perhaps because James have taken recent talk of ‘savage cuts’ to heart and kept the album to a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ seven tracks. Stylistically it breaks no new ground, but why meddle with a winning formula? That said, there’s something missing and it takes a few listens to realise that the trademark James brass is no more. It’s stripped a little of the colour from their sound but they still retain an impressive talent for creating sweeping, expansive epics without resorting to the bombast of Bono.
Bono creeps into this review merely because there’s more than a tip and a wink to the guitar style of Edge, particularly on the immense ‘Porcupine’. That the album is strong is made all the more remarkable when one realises that, inspired by previous sessions with Brian Eno, it was recorded ‘virtually’, with members uploading their parts by ftp for producer Lee Baker to compile into a final product. Quite how such an impersonal approach can conjure up a track which spirals into the stratosphere like Booth’s autobiographical ‘Crazy’ is perplexing but you can’t argue with the results. James are back with something to say. Here’s to hope and glory.