James -‘Hey Ma’ (Fontana)
Blimey. Having seen James back in action at Glasgow’s Academy, I knew they were in fine form live. So I was looking forward to hearing this album. Having played it six times since it arrived less than forty-eight hours ago, I’m finally sitting down to write the review.
First of all, the lineup that recorded the legendary Gold Mother album – probably James’ high point creatively so far, is back on this album.Tim Booth, Jim Glennie, Larry Gott, Saul Davies, Mark Hunter and Dave Baynton-Power are back with trumpeter Andy Diagram whose presence is all over this album in the most glorious way possible. Rather like Radiohead would find a couple of years’ later with ‘Creep,’ James’ biggest hit single ‘Sit Down’in 1991 became an albatross around the band’s collective neck and they refused to play it live for a time. But they produced many fine singles (‘She’s a Star’) and albums (Laid, Millionnaires) afterwards. Like U2, James went on to work with Brian Eno producing them, who helped them to produce genuinely brilliant atmospheric tracks ‘uplifting songs about insecurity, disaffection and mental illness.’ They split in 2001, but solo albums and an appearance by lead singer Tim Booth in 2006’s the Manchester Passion later, here they are.
And what an album. Over half a dozen albums -couldn’t tear myself away -I’ve fallen in love, head over heels with this album. Over the course of eleven songs, from opener ‘Bubbles’ to closer ‘I Wanna Go Home’ the album never lets up for a second. Many artists of both songs can’t write convincingly about their children (and Lennon & McCartney weren’t infallible here either), but Bubbles manages to do that. Title track ‘Hey Ma’ with it’s jaunty ‘Hey ma the boys in body bags’ is jaunty and uplifting – James were always quite political, and then as now you don’t have to look below the surface. Alas, it’s probably too political to be a single (by which I mean Radio won’t play it, and the record company wouldn’t support them, rather than that singles shouldn’t be political).
Approximately 45 minutes long, the album never dips, and not a single track feels like filler. The lyrics are sad at times, but the Booth humour is back too ‘My mum says I look like Yul Brynner – too old for Hamlet too young for Lear* on Whiteboy.
Was I swept away? No, I’ve played it three times today already, made a friend listen to it too, and he agrees. James are back -and how.
Preview the album here at James’ official website
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