by Mike Pattenden
As collaborations go, the linking of Tim Booth, frontman with Manchester indie pioneers James, and renowned composer Angelo Badalamenti seems odd, but their work under the Booth And The Bad Angel mantle has resulted in one of the best albums of the year.
Booth was asked by a TV interviewer five years ago who he would most like to collaborate with, and he had no hesitation in naming the Italian-American composer. "The record he did with Julee Cruise is my favourite. It was ahead of its time. It was sensual, ethereal and dangerous, a combination which no one had ever put together," says Booth.
So he suggested the collaboration idea to Mercury Records and was surprised at the response. "They just said 'Fine, go and do it' and that was it," says Booth, who had expected at least some resistance. Dave Bates, head of A&R at the label, was the man with the open mind. "Just after Wah Wah [James's last album], Tim came up with the idea of doing a solo project and asked me what I thought. I told him to go ahead, so he went and pursued this dream," says Bates. "He needed to do something completely different in a different environment. It had to be a complete change and Angelo's non-rock, non-pop, non-alternative way of thinking was perfect."
However, Booth's approach was just one of many which Badalamenti had to field in the wake of his work with Cruise and, subsequently, on the Twin Peaks soundtrack. "I worked with Anthrax on a track on the White Noise album and I did some stuff with Michael Jackson, but I turned down loads of stuff - Tori Amos, Leonard CohenŠ often because I just didn't have the time," says the 54 year-old composer.
Slowly the project came together with Badalamenti familiarising himself with Booth and his work with James, before seeing the band perform live in London 1993. Booth, meanwhile, busied himself leaving weird lyrics on Badalamenti's answerphone. "I pestered him for a couple of years with lyrics and weird stories, thinking he'd be like David Lynch. He'd be lying in bed at three in the morning, the phone would go and then he'd hear these weird stories of someone climbing up through a spinal cord and breaking through the eardrum with a pickaxe."
Booth flew to New York in the summer of 1994 and the two embarked on a feverish week of improvisational work at Badalamenti's studio in midtown Manhattan. "We did it all on improvisation, it was the most enjoyable thing to do. I had a great time, stayed in a beautiful house, went dancing and basically was as high as a kite - which is why the songs are so up really," says Booth.
Given the nature of the sessions and the two disparate talents involved, the label could be forgiven for expecting something pretty strange. "I don't think we ever expected anything unlistenable, but it could have gone into the realms of Scott Walker," says Bates. "It could have required an arts council grant but, in fact, it's a lot easier to get into," he says.
Badalamenti imagines the label expected the worst. "I don't think PolyGram took us seriously because they thought we were going to go and do something for our friends and family. But they gave us some money and let us get on with it."
In fact, the finished product, as indicated by the superb lead single I Believe, is a revelation - richly textural yet spacey and highly emotive. Perhaps what is most surprising is the instant appeal of many of the songs.
Praise is due here for the additional effort put in by Bernard Butler who gilded the songs with his striking guitar work and mixed all but two of the tracks (Tim Simenon taking over duties for the remainder).
Ironically, the choice of Butler was the only time the label doubted the duo's judgement. Bates says, "I was a bit unsure about Bernard Butler, but he gave it all a further twist. Originally, I wanted Tim Simenon to mix it but, when I heard the results after Bernard played around with it, I had to admit Tim was right, it had made a jump."
The difficulty with a project like Booth & The Bad Angel is how to promote it. Bates says, "The record must take on its own lifeform and prove to be successful. It's going to have to be singles-driven and built up in the press. The audience is an unknown quantity - it's chicken or egg here as far as demand goes." The danger is that even if I Believe charts well, the project could stall for want of promotion. Badalamenti and Booth would both like to tour it but funding is a problem, as is time. Badalamenti is already hard at work on a new David Lynch movie score and James are back in the studio - scotching rumours of acrimony that have dogged them since their last tour. "James are together and we're healthier than we've ever been," declares Booth. "We're aiming to do some TV promotion for the record and the rest of James offered to be the backing band, which gives you an indication of how solid things are. How many bands would do that for their singer?"
A James album is pencilled in for the New Year with Brian Eno and Stephen Hague producing, but that doesn't spell the end for Booth and his Bad Angel. "We don't think of it as a one off," maintains Booth."No way," agrees Badalamenti. "You do one album and you put your heart and soul into it and then you can see the potential in it. It's so much easier to work second time around. If we get the nod after this one, I think we could really go for it and open things right up."