"When you're gone, your songs outlive your story." - Tim Booth in "Shine"
It's rare when a band calls it quits and then later returns with an album that stands up with the best of their original work. That's exactly what James did when they disbanded in 2001 and reunited seven years later, releasing the fantastic Hey Ma album. The first half of 2010 brings part one of the mini-album series- The Night Before, with The Morning After (now out, check out my review here) coming later in the year.
James have never shied away from unique recording techniques - in the early 90s under the guidance of Brian Eno, the band simultaneously recorded two separate albums - on The Night Before, the band set up an online FTP site where the members downloaded/uploaded song parts, collectively contributing via their home studios. Hey Ma producer, Lee Muddy Baker, then assembled the parts into completed songs.
The Night Before adds 7 songs to the James canon, kicking off with the catchy "It's Hot." The obvious single, "Crazy" follows with singer Tim Booth proclaiming "I'm not crazy I'm just laughing at myself / Even when I look so strong I feel so small." James have always been successful in taking simple chord progressions and layering them with violins, trumpets, drum loops, slide guitar and brilliant vocal harmonies into grandoise arrangements. This album is no exception. Tim Booth seems to grab from an unlimited supply of memorable melodies and great one-liners: "I used to have feelings but all I feel is a hole" - from Ten Below; "I can put on quite a show but inside I'm broken" - from Porcupine.
The star of The Night Before is Mark Hunter, whose creative keyboard textures propel all of the tracks, most notably on the brilliant "Porcupine." With Larry Gott's sparse slide and shimmering guitars, "Porcupine" would not be out of place on the classic Laid album from 1993. It's a beautiful track and one of the album's many highlights. "Hero" closes the album and features Tim's best vocal performance, reciting the mantra "You've got to love your brother like you don't love yourself / You've got to change" over Dave Baynton-Power's killer drumbeat.
28 years into their career, James are presently creating some of their best work. This will definitely be a Top Ten of 2010. If you cannot find it in your local store, please be sure to order online. The CD version comes with an online bonus track, accessible by inserting the CD into your computer.
Key Tracks: Porcupine, Ten Below, Hero
Release Date: April 19, 2010 on Mercury Records