James formed initially in 1981. If we discount the break they took between 2001 and 2007 they’re approaching the thirty year mark. Just taking a moment to think about that, in a world where the lifespan of the hyped groups is seldom longer than 18months to two years, it is nothing short of phenomenal. Of course the problem with these groups, the ones that transcend decades and scenes are that they’re forgotten about by the general public and end up having to split up in order to get any attention from the music press whatsoever. We’re fondly looking at you Supergrass.
Only a mini-album, ‘The Night Before’ is seven songs and shy of the half an hour mark. Rather than sounding like creative dregs or a band too short on ideas to come up with a full record however, it’s a tight and taught little collection that has absolutely zero filler. With their youth being behind them it’ll come as no surprise that none of these songs are student disco fodder of their best known songs ‘Sit Down’ and ‘Laid’. That said, a listen to any James release (be it a studio album or one of their many hits collections) will show that these have been the exceptions rather than the rules, in any case.
Characterised by clean production and a distinctively laid back night-time feel (hence the title, we suppose) we can hardly say that ‘The Night Before’ is an inventive album. Instead it’s far more appropriate to say of James that they are a solid band who’re writing solid songs. The nearest comparison that comes to mind is the later days of New Order. See the excellent ‘Dr Hellier’ and listen to the prominence of the bass in the mix. It helps also that these are Mancunian legends that are arguably past their best, but in saying that it’s good to remember that New Order did have ‘Krafty’ as one of their last singles.
Another stand out here is ‘Crazy’, the mini-album’s second track. Almost as if the band have made a self-conscious decision to make the perfect relaxing drive-time pop song. Tim Booth is in fine voice and the chorus implies that they’ve the experience with filling rather large venues. Although we’ve said that there’s no filler we can’t say that we’re particularly fond of closing song ‘Hero’. Although a very slight Madchester shadow is cast over parts of the rest of the album it’s on this track that it takes over. Sadly it’s not quite danceable enough to be a full departure from the rest of the material and it sounds a little too forced and tired, like the band at the last gasp wanted to prove that they’re not old.
But old they are, and although we say that being relatively young we mean it not as an insult. James have more than proven their worth since their inception and have picked up a deserved number of fans on the way. Inevitably this is a record that’s been made with the existing fanbase in mind and those of you out there chasing new sounds probably haven’t even read this review. Even so, ‘The Night Before’ deserves at least a couple of listens and will take up very little of your time. There’s nothing to lose really, and it would be a shame if only the fans heard this.
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