James PIC


Forging a new identity with eclectic sounds

Act: James Label: Mercury Project: album Songwriters: James Publishers: Blue Mountain Producer: Stephen Hague and Brian Eno Released: February 24 1997

Since they formed more than decade ago James have been saddled with something of a reputation for earnest introspection, but this could be about to change. As guitarist Saul Davies says, "James used to be therapy. Now it's a party animal." In short, James have undergone a metamorphosis and the result is Whiplash, an eclectic album of rock, pop, folk and even explorations into dance. "It was time to change," says Tim Booth, James's charismatic frontman, "We weren't getting the best out of everybody. I was getting dragged down by the responsibility, there was a crisis and it led to us finding a new way."

Three years ago the band were coming off a successful American tour, supporting the gold-selling album Laid. Then came 'Black Thursday' - a day when founding member Larry Gott expressed his intention to leave the group and they discovered they owed several years' back taxes.

Soon after, Tim Booth announced he was recording an album with Angelo Badalamenti - last year's Booth And The Bad Angel. The result altered the chemistry of James fundamentally. For the first time all remaining members of the band began work on new songs , while Gott continued in a songwriting-only role. The band sampled vocals and melody lines Booth laid down during their initial jams, then took everything else apart and rebuilt them. "Tim was really cool. Now, for the first time, it feels like we're a proper band," says bassist Jim Glennie. It has led to songs like Greenpeace, conceived by Booth as a folk song, now bursting into industrial jungle. As Davies says, "A change has also taken place in our music interests and we've been getting into dance."

Brian Eno, who produced Laid and then the experimental album Wah Wah (both released in '94) is a key figure in the band's new music-making attitude, while the main production credit goes to the master of intelligent pop gloss, Stephen Hague. "Eno was full of mad suggestions, on the texture here, or an arrangement there, and he's a big fan of backing vocals," says Davies. "He supplied most of them on the album."

Although recorded at Rak Studios and Real World, a lot of the work was germinated at a movable 'third' studio dubbed Cafe Mullet. "Cafe Mullet was an environment where people could try new ideas and write songs," says Davies. "Three or four came from these sessions, which were a weird mishmash of live playing and technology." The polyrhythmed Go To The Bank, for example, was created this way.

As for James's more easygoing attitude, Glennie says, "Things have got a lot more straightforward since our success in America. We've opened the door to what other people have to say."

James have therefore taken record company advice and made the smooth and soaring She's A Star the first UK single. It has already garnered heaps of airplay and is likely to be followed by Tomorrow, an uplifting anthem more in the old James tradition, which appeared in rougher form on Wah Wah. "It provides a link with the old James and the new," says Booth. "The band have been viewed, quite wrongly, as some kind of vegetarian collective," says Mercury's head of marketing Jonathan Green. "But they are not at all angst-ridden and have been incredibly focused." Booth, for one, is ready to win over the British public once more. "It's like starting again, but I don't think people will have forgotten us if they ever saw us play live. Hopefully they will come back."

by David Knight