Amazingly now in their fourth decade, Manchester legends James return for this, their fourteenth album - and a solid enough affair it is. Reaching peak success in the ‘90s thanks to belters like ‘Laid’ and ‘Sometimes’, it’s oft forgot that James emerged from the same scene as New Order and The Smiths, occasionally even touring with the latter. Never quite possessing the enigmatic quality of Moz and Marr or the electronic-fuelled groove of New Order, James’ appeal comes from the combination of Manchester swagger and Tim Booth’s often fragile words. It’s a sweet contrast that’s kept many a fan happy and with a fine soundtrack to life’s more dramatic moments.
Following on from 2014’s ‘La Petite Mort’, the group once again locked themselves up in the Scottish Highlands to allow pure isolation for the creation of these twelve new tracks. Commendably still opting for spontaneity after all these years, the lads have whittled down some dance-tinged jams into workable songs and the result is an LP that, while unfocused, still has plenty of drive and energy. A brooding bass riff kicks off opening gambit ‘Bitch’, a fierce and fleshed out beast that builds for over two minutes before Booth drops his critique of middle age and needless complaining. The following ‘To My Surprise’ is a fantastic slice of wonky pop, with words and imagery spat over some grooving guitars. You simply can’t go wrong with a chorus that starts with: “Were you just born an asshole?”
The anthemic ‘Nothing But Love’ is a built-in crowd pleaser and, while offering Booth’s best vocals of the record, feels a bit light on content or bite. The new emphasis on electronics truly rears its head on ‘Attention’ and unfortunately proves more distracting than pleasant with some trance-flavoured nuances. The worst of such moments comes from ‘Catapult’ which sees a truly dated D’n’B beat being used while the rest of the band seem unsure of how to add to its erratic foundation. ‘Move Down South’ reinforces the previous misstep, here rather we see the James of live renown locking together and producing some wonderful noise.
The hip shaking swing of ‘Waking’ truly delivers that classic emotive vibe that fans will be looking for on ‘Girl At…’, a pretty chorus filled with longing and a wedge of angst. A perfect James number, essentially. The titular track makes a sweet and upbeat coda and once more showcases a band that has no right sounding as fresh and hungry as they do. Sure - there’s some bad ideas here, but hell, at least they’re experimenting. And sounding like they’re enjoying it while they do.
Words: Sam Walker-Smart
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