James - All The Colours Of You
Updated: Jun 6, 2021
Prologue - I thought James were named in tribute to The Smiths - I assumed they took the most common first name, as Moz and Marr took the most common surname. I only learnt that was nonsense much later. I also gave my 12 inch of Village Fire, an early EP by them to a girl I wanted to woo. I failed miserably in said "wooing" and now don't own a record I would love to have - life lessons, eh?
All The Colours Of You is James' 16th album in a 39 year long career. Given it was made in lockdown, with singer Tim Booth holed up in Costa Rica, while the rest of the band were scattered around the world, it's their most cohesive, catchy and solid offering in years. The last few albums have been great, but nothing as immediate and hook-laden. It's upbeat and joyous despite its opening lyric - "We're all gonna die. That's the truth".
Title track and first single, All The Colours Of You is splendid - rousing and catchy as hell, but with lyrics bang on the money - "Who's more woke than who, who's more broke than who, disunited States" and its closing chant sums up what so many Americans seem unable to grasp - "President's your man, he's the Ku Klux Klan, K coup K coup".
Coronavirus is tackled head on ("There's a thief of our breath") - Recover is both topical and touching, a tribute to Booth’s father-in-law who died in the first wave of Covid-19, sharing the pain of grieving from a distance for someone you have loved and lost. It's lovely.
Beautiful Beaches recounts Booth's family having to flee California and head to Costa Rica due to the ravaging fires and the damage climate change is causing. Meanwhile, Wherever It Takes Us is experimental James in full flow - it's almost a spoken word piece. If most of the album is more akin to their poppier side, this is their Wah-Wah/Eno moment.
Getting Myself Into continues with a theme that runs through the album - ageing and death, but it's light touch and funny ("it's half-past midlife"). Magic Bus is not the unlikely Who cover I feared, but a violin driven stormer which will be huge live.
Producer Jacknife Lee normally works with bigger bands (U2, Snow Patrol), but lockdown made him available to James when normally these days he would be out of their reach and budget. He's brought out the poppy stadium side of their music, without losing the intimacy, peculiarity and experimentation, so hats off to him.
And hats off to James for continuing to keep mixing it up, taking chances and after all these years, still knocking out cracking albums.
Epilogue - I will have to get tickets to see them again this year, even though every time they tour, I always say I don’t need to see them AGAIN! However good they will be, they will never be as good as when I saw them 30 years ago in Exeter. Sit Down was at its peak and the gig was rammed full of dutiful students who all sat down during the hit- except for my stubborn mate Nick and his supportive girlfriend (now wife), who were the only two people standing. Hats off to them for not being sheep like me...baa...baa...