Where To Start With... James
Manchester's indie survivors James are probably best known for the string of hits they scored in the 1990s, but by then the band fronted by singer Tim Booth had already been toiling in obscurity for nearly a decade.
Originally formed in 1982, the band went by several names before finally settling on James and beginning to establish themselves as one of Manchester's best-kept secrets, earning a reputation across the city as a formidable live act. However, commercial success took a long time to arrive and, in the early days at least, the band didn't exactly make things easy for themselves. As early as 1983 James were being courted by Factory Records boss Tony Wilson, but the band, whose live sets often contained long improvised jam sessions, were fearful of tarnishing their best songs in the studio – so much so that when they finally agreed to record the three track Jimone EP for Factory, the band reportedly took the counterintuitive step of choosing three songs they considered to be their worst. Despite this, the EP eventually led to a support slot on The Smiths' Meat is Murder tour in 1985.
By now the band were already being touted as rising stars, but progress remained slow over the next few years for various reasons, including Booth and bassist Jim Glennie's involvement with a religious sect called Lifewave which kept the band off the American leg of the Smiths tour, and an on-stage fight between Booth and then-drummer Gavin Whelan which saw their erstwhile tub-thumper part company with the rest of the band. A brief and unhappy spell with Sire records saw James release their 1986 debut album Stutter and its follow-up Strip-mine, both of which sold so poorly that the cash-strapped band ended up taking part in a documentary for Granada Television in which they signed up to be human guinea pigs in a series of medical experiments.
But then their luck began to change. After signing to Fontana, James began to gain traction with their 1990 album Gold Mother and singles such as 'Come Home' and 'Sit Down' gradually became regular fixtures on the radio, with the album climbing to No.2 in the UK Album Chart. From there the band released several albums including 1994's Brian Eno-produced Laid, which saw James enjoying commercial success in America for the first time and whose title track subsequently became one of their biggest hits.
Eventually calling it a day in 2001 when Tim Booth left the group, James remained inactive for several years before announcing comeback album Hey Ma in 2008, with Booth returning to the fold. The band have delivered several more albums since then and this week they return with their 15th LP, Living in Extraordinary Times.
Produced by Charlie Andrew (Alt J, Rae Morris) and composer-turned-producer Beni Giles, the album includes recent single 'Hank' and sees Brian Eno return to add his touch to one of the album's 16 tracks, 'Coming Home (pt. 2)'.
You can find the video for the latter below, beneath that we've picked out five key tracks from the band's career so far as a guide for the uninitiated...
Probably the band's best-known song in its re-recorded, four-minute form, the 1991 version which became the band's breakthrough hit was actually preceded by a longer, eight-minute version first released via Rough Trade in 1989. While the original is still cherished by their hardcore fans, there's no getting around the fact that the decision to re-record and re-release the song was a game-changer for the band. The new version was originally released as a non-album single but later appeared on reissues of their 1991 album Gold Mother.
If 'Sit Down' is James' best-known tune amongst British fans, then its American equivalent is probably the title track from their 1993 album Laid, despite vocalist Tom Booth having to re-record a line in the opening verse because MTV refused to air the original version containing the lyric “she only comes when she's on top”. The song's popularity in the U.S. is also partly a result if its inclusion on the soundtrack to no fewer than three American Pie sequels, but also because it happens to be one of the band's finest moments.
'I Know What I'm Here For'
Featured on the band's Brian Eno-produced 1999 album Millionaires, 'I Know What I'm Here For' saw the band receiving their highest ever rotation on MTV with a snazzy video and a more dancefloor-orientated sound than on their previous albums. One of their more memorable tunes from the late 90s along with another cut from Millionaires, 'Just Like Fred Astaire'.
'Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)'
The only single released from the band's 2001 album Pleased to Meet You – again produced by Brian Eno – this was also their last release before Tim Booth's departure later that year. A relatively minimalist song on an album with more experimentation than most of their back catalogue, it nearly wound up being their last.
'All I'm Saying'
Our final pick is the closing track on the band's 2014 La Petite Mort, written in the wake of the death of Tim Booth's mother and finding the band at their most reflective. A gentle ballad which gradually builds into stomping closer for the album, it's also one of the record's standout moments.
Living in Extraordinary Times is available in hmv stores now - you can also find it here in our online store.