An impressive return to form from a group who continue to craft their own distinctive...
Chris White 2008-04-04
Back in 1991, there wasn't a sixth form disco dance floor in the country that didn't fill to bursting point whenever James's anthem, Sit Down, was played. After an early career plodding away worthily in the indie backwaters, Tim Booth and his chums suddenly realised that an unsubtle combination of baggy beats and a football chant chorus could catapult them to stardom and lo and behold, they had a number two hit.
James remained a big-selling act throughout the ensuing decade and now, after a seven year hiatus, they're back in the studio with comeback album, Hey Ma. Like most other bands that reappear after a long absence, they've smartly decided to ensure they satisfy their old fan base by making minimal changes to their sound, although Hey Ma is closer in style to Laid than the Gold Mother-era crowd pleasing that spawned Sit Down.
Like its 1993 predecessor, the seven piece's new effort takes time to grow on the listener, but once its quietly epic songs lodge in the brain it's as if James have never been away. Tunes slowly build to a shuffling beat before the soaring melodies irresistibly take flight, propelled by trademark jangling guitar, brass flourishes and Booth's soaring, passionate vocals. The ebullient front man has also retained his gift for erudite if occasionally silly lyrics, with White Boy's ''my mum says I look like Yul Brynner, too old for Hamlet, too young for Lear'' the most memorable example.
Other stand out moments include the strident title track, which blends a typically effervescent hook with some uncompromising anti-war imagery, and Waterfall, curiously akin to Blonde On Blonde-period Dylan with a sugar rush. Boom Boom's atmospheric guitars bring to mind fellow Mancunians Doves, although a self-indulgent Adagio For Strings-apeing interlude is one of the few bum notes to be found on Hey Ma. Overall, this is an impressive return to form from a group who continue to craft their own distinctive brand of understated, uplifting rock while those Sit Down sixth-formers contemplate thirty something paunches, mortgages and antenatal classes.