It was always hard to understand the pious attitude towards James in the music press. On the face of it here was a band that had the gifted knack of coining off the shelf airs full of energetic melody. On its release the critics scoffed at ‘Seven’ for supposed stadium oriention. That somehow James had forgotten their humble folk-rock beginnings and had turned into would-be rock gods. That’s progress in my book and looking back ‘Seven’ is a monumental improvement on their previous efforts ‘Stutter’, ‘Strip Mine’ and ‘Gold Mother’ which lacked the finesse and imagination of the follow-up. There’s an energy to the music that went some way to translating the spectacle that was James in concert. One such show was recorded for MTV around the same time ‘Seven’ was released and it remains a landmark film of a band at the peak of their powers, where cartoon flowers elegantly waltzed with an effortless montage of sound.
‘Born of Frustration’ is smothered in luscious trumpet sounds (supplied by the appropriately named Andy Diagram). Don’t know what it is about that instrument but when it’s used properly it gives me the shivers. The songs ingrained spirit is precocious and endearing. ‘Ring the Bells’ is as streamlined a pop tune as you’re likely to hear and as Tim Booth hollers it’s hard not to mimic his puppet dangling in the wind dance moves. ‘Sound’ has a similar theme that sees Booth once again successfully reprise his werewolf persona. When James sail close to the good ship U2 on ‘Live a Love of Life’ retribution would be forthcoming were it not for ‘Don’t Wait that Long’ which is an exhaustive example of how a love song should be written. The song broods by way of a dalliance between Saul Davis’ fingers and the chords at his disposal. This is the sound of the human body straining to control too many wounded ventricles. ‘Next Lover’ showcases the aftermath and the knowing frayed playing subtly coaxes the required imagery from the words. The album engineers its way to the summit with a couple of James most notable achievements. ‘Heavens’ is as angelic as you’d expect and proves without doubt that Coldplay weren’t the first band to devise memorable piano riffs. It’s the title track, however, that encapsulates the essence of the piece. Shimmering above the strain of sweet guitar strings and classy brass sunsets Tim Booth pulls on his most affecting persona to steal the girl of his dreams.
We have a lot to thank James for. Their t-shirts alone kept me in fashionable tops for years. While these may be passé now, their music still sounds contemporary and vibrant. Later albums like ‘Laid’ and ‘Whiplash’ were accomplished affairs, which while never losing sight of the tune lacked the adrenalin rush that so propelled this album. ‘Seven’ is all the evidence that was ever needed to prove that James had the ammunition to be greats. Unfortunately in 1992 the sound of Seattle had swept all diversions aside so much so that ‘Seven’ never garnered the attention it warranted. What a shame then, that this great band will be remembered for a novelty hit. It’s enough to make you sit down in sympathy. KD
James – Born Of Frustration