James’ masterpiece from 1993 marked the beginning of their work with Brian Eno.
Ian Wade 2011
It may be hard to believe, but once upon a time, back in the pre-Britpop era of the early 90s, James were one of the biggest groups in the UK. Sure they dated further back than that, being the mildly unfashionable band mentioned in passing while fellow Manchester types The Smiths, The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays came, and went, and ultimately imploded. But after a couple of albums, they grabbed the baggy bandwagon by its number plate with 1990’s Come Home and eventually broke through big-time with indie disco perennial Sit Down when it was re-released in 1991. The result: their records finally sold more than their t-shirts (25 million worldwide is a figure many of today’s bands would lop off a limb for) and a decent career beckoned. A number of hit singles graced the charts, so it was no real surprise when their comeback tour in 2007 was such a success. James were, and very much remain, a band that a lot of people are very fond of.
By the time of this fifth album, released in 1993, Radio 1 was holding James Days and the band had graduated to football ground-sized shows, while stateside they were supporting the likes of Neil Young. Another sign of their status the arrival of Brian Eno as producer – Laid is the first of several collaborations between man and band. His presence was made perfectly clear when James’ sixth album, Wah Wah, collected textural and ambient pieces and improvisational jams from the Laid sessions. But this set was one of solid songwriting, showcasing James at their finest, relaxing into their own skins.
A warm, subtle album in tone, songs like Out to Get You, One of the Three and Lullaby might be seen as forerunners of Snow Patrol’s more-measured, less-grating fare. The title-track is indie-doing-sex a bit too self-consciously – Pulp would soon rise to public prominence and make this shtick their own. The freeform feel of Skindiving and the careering runaway of Sometimes feel like fleeting glimpses of lengthier streams of consciousness – both are far from the bombast of James’ previous album, 1992’s Seven. And such was the group’s position in pop at the time that they hoped Low, Low, Low would be used by the England football team at 1994’s World Cup (which, of course, they failed to qualify for).
The cover may make your eyes bleed – the band in dresses, eating bananas – but the contents of Laid comprise what is probably James’ real masterpiece.