Biography: James

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Since the release of their first EP in 1985, the English alternative folk-pop group James has always been on the verge of mainstream success, yet never quite becoming the superstars that they sometimes seem capable of becoming. For all their virtues, their albums have had their share of flaws, too; vocalist Tim Booth's tendencey to go from a baritone to a falsetto within seconds was impressive at first, but soon grew tiresome and their songs were occasionally poorly arranged, making them sound directionless. However, James sounded off-kilter at times not because of a lack of talent, but because of the height of their ambitions -- the band clearly aimed to be transcendent and important, not disposable. Since their first album, 1986's =Stutter,= each record has been drastically improved, with the band consistently reinventing and expanding their sound.James' reached the Top Ten in the UK with a single from their live =One Man Clapping,= "Sit Down;" it showcased the band at their most direct and simple, whch their next album did not. 1990's =Gold Mother= found the band incorporating elements of the current club scene of Manchester, their home town. James was never truly part of that musical trend, yet it helped them resign with a major label in their country. Their next album, 1992's =Seven,= didn't have any of the dance style of their previous record, but it showed a significant step forward in their songwriting; 1993's =Laid= was even better, not only because of Brian Eno's atmospheric, melancholy production but because James reigned in their most excessive tendencies and recorded an album that fulfilled the promise they have always shown. =Laid= gave them their first hit in America, as well as some success in the UK, although the band was publicly angry about what they believed to be a lack of support in their native country. =Laid= proved that James has just begun to hit their stride. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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