Alex Pegg

"The Best Of James"

10th June 2005
reviewer: Alex Pegg
rating: 5 out of 5
published by: Fontana
released: 23rd March 1998
  1. Come Home
  2. Sit Down
  3. She's A Star
  4. Laid
  5. Waltzing Along
  6. Say Something
  7. Born Of Frustation
  8. Tommorow
  9. Destiny Calling
  10. Out To Get You
  11. Runaground
  12. Lose Control
  13. Sometimes
  14. How Was It For You?
  15. Seven
  16. Sound
  17. Ring The Bells
  18. Hymn From A Village

Every so often a record comes along of which you have no great expectations, and it completely blows you away. This is one of those records.

James formed in 1981 (at this time called ‘Model Team International’) and released their first single in 1984. They released two albums;‘Stutter’ in 1986 and ‘Strip-mine’ in 1988, before a re-release of ‘Sit Down’ became their breakthrough hit in 1991 from their third album ‘Gold Mother’. Originally released in 1990, it might still be their best-known tune with it's excellent sing-a-long chorus and the first of many calls to people who would feel themselves to be outsiders to consider themselves at home with James. ‘Gold Mother’ also contributes ‘Lose Control’, ‘How Was It For You’ and ‘Come Home’. Unusually James songs are ‘written’ by free form jamming in the studio until a song emerges. Only ‘Come Home’ manages to sound ‘Manchester’ (the bands home town) influenced with the others sounding purely James.

1992 saw the follow up album ‘Seven’ crash into the UK charts at no.2. Some feat considering the 9 years they’d been performing together. It contributes the excellent ‘Born Of Frustration’, ‘Ring The Bell’ which features, another of James’ calling cards, an incredibly catchy chorus, and the title track which features a beautiful trumpet refrain.

By this time James' fluctuating line-up was up to 6 or 7 people and featured trumpet, violin and cello players giving them a warm, full sound quite apart from other rock bands. For their next album they went into the studio with producer Brian Eno. The results were perhaps the best album of the band's career. The title track ‘Laid’ features the awesome couplet ‘This bed is on fire with passionate love, The neighbours complain about the noises above’ and details a love/hate relationship. Other highlights include ‘Say Something’ with its fantastic New Order-ish bass playing, and ‘Out To Get You’ which builds from a quiet start to a beautiful climax. Maybe they intended the pun but with ‘Laid’ James had never sounded so sexy.

These sessions produced enough material for a second album of extra songs, jams and instrumentals that was released in 1994 as ‘Wah Wah’ although none of these cuts makes it on to this album. The band then took a 3 year break.

Their comeback album ‘Whiplash’ was a top ten hit and contains possibly their best single ‘She's A Star’ with it's soaring guitar refrain and chorus. There are also two new songs for the fans and both are good tracks.

In the modern age of marketing-driven music sales where bands release Greatest Hits and Best Of albums with barely enough good music to fill an EP, James' ‘Best of’ can stand tall. The consistency of this album's songs is a testament to what a great band they are. As Tim Booth says in the album's sleeve notes "It's not the best of ..... But its fucking good!”

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