To say that James have had a hard time of things would be a spectacular understatement. After persevering since the early eighties, they finally hit big with 'Sit Down' some six years ago. This was followed by the album 'Seven' which the fans loved and the press panned. 1993's 'Laid' was next - an album hailed by many as one of the greats but not, alas, by the music press. Panned again. Their reaction to 1994's 'Wah Wah', an album of spontaneous jams and experimental production was inevitable. So now we have 'Whiplash', produced by Stephen Hague (New Order) with "additional interference and co-production" from Brian Eno (following his work on 'Laid' and 'Wah Wah'), and ignore the press' prejudice because this deserves objective attention. Yes, it opens with 'Tomorrow', a track that appeared on 'Wah Wah', but 'Whiplash's 'Tomorrow' is produced, energetic, emotive and even Wonder Stuff-esque. We are then introduced to the new material with 'Lost A Friend' that is just as triumphant and rousing as 'Sometimes' or even 'Seven's title track. The real interest, however, is created by the conservative drum'n'bass of 'Greenpeace' and then 'Go To The Bank' which can only be described as Beck with orchestration, depth and soul. And as ever, Tim Booth's unique observations and poetic imagery provides a comforting yet intriguing focus. 'Lost A Friend' develops a number of his previous themes ("Plugs me into some holy geek / His point in life is incomplete.....I'd sell my soul for a Bond girl's kiss.....I see some soldiers with guns / And they are killing for fun / They are killing to entertain me") but 'Greenpeace' undoubtedly steals the lyrical honours, highlighting global environmental issues through the opinions of "Man 1", an apathetic by-stander ("I'm too cool to get involved.....I can't stop the world from burning"); and "Man 2", a cold representative of those responsible ("Gonna suck the juices out of the world.....It's money to me.....I am what I am / Much more than a God / Much less than a man of industry"). After the Hague-influenced 'Homeboy' the album is closed by the haunting 'Watering Hole' and finally the reflective 'Blue Pastures' almost to remind you that this is still James, with Tim Booth perhaps addressing James' plight himself ("And just when I thought I was free I get pulled in again / Once you're in, you're in..."). Go on, be maverick, go against the flow and buy this album, and then spend your time telling your friends how it's one of the most under-rated albums of the year. 9/10.