James releases their 16th studio album on June 4th, All The Colours Of You. Recorded partly before the pandemic, it’s produced by Jacknife Lee, the Grammy award-winning producer for U2, REM and The Killers, to name a few.
In 1991, they re-released a shorter version of the now infamous Sit Down, and the rest is history. Since its success, they’ve sold 25 million records and released 15 studio albums. Not bad for a band that started 38 years ago. Singer Tim Booth worked with Jacknife (Booth’s neighbour in Topanga Canyon, California) and the rest of the band remotely from the UK. Jacknife intended to bring a new and fresh approach to their music.
It kicks off with the sobering lyrics of Zero, ‘We’re all going to die, that’s the truth, quit measuring time by money and youth.’ About two minutes in, the track becomes a surge of surrealist electro-synth. Choral harmonies abound, and some interesting progressive rock sounds finish off this experimental track.
Track two, All The Colours Of You, is the first single released from the album. This has an 80s electronic sound and really is the story of the last year ‘We’re stuck in this cage, you’re ringing again.’ Having lived in America for many years, Booth sings of the Trump years and civil unrest during this time. ‘Who’s more woke than you? Who’s more broke than you?’ This is James diversifying their style, but it works. Booth’s emotionally charged vocals and the band crackle with electricity.
A track that stands out for me is Wherever It Takes Us. The stark intensity of its theatrical style brings to mind Pink Floyd in a revolving door with Talking Heads! Even with these similarities, it still brings a fresh, inventive and essentially positive air to it.
Tim wrote the lyrics for Beautiful Beaches after regular Californian fires swept through his community and destroyed a friend’s home. The protagonist is literally fleeing to the beaches. And yet it sounds like the perfect summer holiday song with its upbeat rhythm and recalling earlier James with its anthemic beat and chorus. ‘Put your foot down to the floor; we’re racing down to those beautiful beaches.’
Recover is a deeply personal and poignant modern ballad about the loss of Booth’s father-in-law, who died last April in the first Covid wave. It’s produced gently with a subtle bassline and is dedicated to “all those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic or otherwise”. The lyrics are so explicit in the description I felt tears coming to my eyes. But in this song, he remembers happy memories. ‘We will remember your wicked sense of fun…. We will remember how to pass your spirit on.’ I challenge you not to be moved by this.
In complete contrast, Getting Myself Into has a comical air to it.’ I like the vaudeville-style plinky piano and the tongue-in-cheek lyrics, ‘…it’s half-past midlife’ and ‘I’m already half-past wrecked’.
An album recorded during such a historic, eventful period in our time was always going to be thought-provoking. But add the Manchester mavericks to the mix, and you get a quirky, challenging, dark but ultimately optimistic album of multi-layers.