With apologies for the past two weeks of repeat postings.
There are occasions when pressures of work and other commitments mean I can’t devote all that much time to the blog. I always try to have at least a week’s worth of postings ready in advance to cover eventualities but I had just about emptied the well quite recently and as I can load up about 5 old posts in the time it takes me to compose a single new post I bought myself a bit of breathing space.
So here I am back with the series on singles from James.
It had been three years since James had last unleashed any new material on the public.
The band had come very close to breaking up at the tail end of 1995 thanks to a combination of tensions among members exacerbated by a very unexpected and very large tax bill covering a period when they had first tasted success.
There were was a degree of profile as Tim Booth had worked with composer Angelo Badalementi, and with contributions from Bernard Butler, an LP entitled Booth and The Bad Angel had surfaced in 1996 including a hit single in I Believe.
The following year the band, but without Tim, began to re-visit some material previously recorded with Brian Eno as well as start work on new songs in a studio in Wales. It wasn’t an easy or seemingly an enjoyable experience, certainly in the initial stages, but very slowly the semblance of a new LP began to be knitted together with Tim sending vocal contributions from New York.
When Tim returned back to the UK the band and record label decided it would be an idea to finish things off by bringing in uber-producer Stephen Hague to deliver a commercial radio-friendly finish. The first material anyone got to here was this single in February 1997:-
mp3 : James – She’s A Star
It became a Top 10 hit in the UK, helped by the fact that the band were willing to go out on the telly/chat-show circuit to give it maximum possible publicity. It also came with a stylish and expensive video.
There was one really annoying thing though for band completists, namely that the single came in 3 x CD versions, although there was no vinyl issue. The first CD featured live versions of two very old James songs as recorded the Alton Towers gig back in 1992, the second CD offered three new songs and CD 3 had two remixes of She’s A Star, plus – and I’m certain this was done by the record label out of spite to piss off fans who had moaned about remixes – the Weatherall mix of Come Home which was its third(!!!) appearance as James b-side.
mp3 : James – Stutter (live)
mp3 : James – Johnny Yen (live)
mp3 : James – Chunney Chops
mp3 : James – Fishknives
mp3 : James – Van Gogh’s Dog
mp3 : James – She’s A Star (Dave Angel’s PAT Mix)
mp3 : James – She’s A Star (Andrea’s Biosphere Dub)
The big problem for me is that She’s A Star is a really disappointing 45 particularly compared to the pre-fame and fortune material. While I hadn’t liked the stadium-rock material of the Sound era I could understand in some ways what the band were setting out to do and they had made a great comeback with Laid. But for the first time ever, I found myself using the word boring to describe a James single. And I haven’t changed my mind all these years later,
Turning to the other tracks.
The two live songs are fine but both are drawn out to almost 7 minutes in length and while I’m sure this it must have been a real treat for fans who went to Alton Towers they don’t match the intensity of the live versions released many year previously on One Man Clapping. (It was also the second time Stutter had been released as a live b-side having done so on Come Home a number of years earlier)
The new songs contain some of the worst bits of music the band have ever released and in days of yore would surely have been consigned to the bin.
The first minute and a half or of Chunney Chops is really instrumental bland synth-pop that just gets on my nerves. It is the sort of music that Genesis began to make when Phil Collins talked them out of being a prog band and into the pop charts in the mid 80s. Yup… that bad. And and while the remaining three and a half minutes do feature what sounds like a half decent Tim vocal it is mixed low behind an awful bit of annoying music.
The third track – Van Gogh’s Dog actually opens with a great deal of promise. A slow number with a bit of noodly synth music in the background…something a bit different appears to be coming our way. And then, just a minute or so into the song it becomes almost a lazy pastiche of With Or Without You by U2…made worse by Tim doing a bit of falsetto singing that would get him booed off most stages if he was a support act.
Which makes it such a shock that the middle track of the new songs – Fishknives – is so bloody brilliant. Yup it is more electronic than James fans were used to but it has a soundtrack quality to it that brings to mind some of the work of David Holmes.
The remixes? Well it’s 12 minutes of music that is supposed to resemble She’s A Star. The Dave Angel mix for the most part doesn’t as so that’s a blessing. But it is , like the Jam J stuff, an acquired taste.
The other mix, which was produced by Norewagian electronics wizard Geir Jenssen, turns out to be the release’s true saving grace. All the bombast of the single is replace by wonderful keyboard noises backing a most gorgeous and understated sounding vocal from Tim…..it’s only when you listen closely that you realise it is the same vocal as the single but here it seems to find its rightful place.
Totally unexpected and so out of place on what really is a sub-standard release.