Uncut 4/98

-Manchester Renegades (Sidebar) James' 15-year Chequered History

In 1983, James released their first EP, JIMONE **, on Factory. Like The Smiths, they were still bashing away on guitar, bass and drums while all around them loaded up with hi-tech, state-of-the-art production. 'JimOne''s unremarkable guitar-pop had an edge that appealed to many - not least Morrissey, who turned "What's The World" into a live Smiths favourite. JAMES II ** (1985) include "Hymn From A Village" and "If Things Were Perfect."

Their debut album, STUTTER (1986, Sire) **, was produced by former Patti Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye. It had an improvised indie/folk feel, while Tim's vocals swooped from high-pitched melodrama to a surprisingly deep tenor (on the thoughtful, quite lovely "Really Hard"). Held back by Sire for a full 18 months, STRIP MINE (1988) ** was seen by some as dreary and dated. A handful of tracks worked well, especially the rabble-rousing "What For", a precursor to "Come Home" and "Sit Down." The live album, ONE MAN CLAPPING (1989, Rough Trade) **, featured a number of retreads, though the relief of having left Sire shows in less strained vocals. "Sit Down" and "Come Home" were released as singles with little company backing, and thus went nowhere. Still, the album topped the indie charts.

GOLD MOTHER (Fontana, 1990) *** was something rather different. In a daring James are hip! shock, the new seven-strong line-up, produced by Flood, boosted their lily-livered strummings, while the turbulent Booth got real embittered angst into his lyrics. A string of imperative hits - "Come Home," "Hang On," "Lose Control," and a re-released "Sit Down," plus "How Was It for You" - whipped fans to a frenzy and perfectly fitted the indie/dance crossover.

And then they blew it, though it's hard to see how. SEVEN (1992) *** was wild and possessed, with Tim howling like a coyote, angelic trumpets and powerchords lifting the sound beyond Simple Minds territory. It was a big sound - too big for its boots, said the press, who slaughtered the album on grounds of pomposity and arrogance.

Produced by Brian Eno, LAID (1993) **** was spare, dreamy and sexy, from the deeply insecure and touching "Out To Get You" to the groovy "PS," and it brought America to its knees. Session outtakes and ambient jams constituted the now-deleted WAH WAH (1994) ***, intended as a rebirth of coll - but a delayed release date meant it limped home well after U2's Eno-produced 'Sooropa.'

Near implosion in 1995 gave Tim space for the solo project, BOOTH AND THE BAD ANGEL (1996) ***, with Angelo Badalamenti, a low-key gem, with desolate sonic landscapes. By contrast, WHIPLASH (1997) **** was unexpectedly raucous. Unselfconscious, rockin', playful ("She's A Star," "Waltzing Along"), but shot through with dark shafts of alienation.

After the current '1988: The Year Of The Hits, a new album is scheduled for later this year.