Release Date: Mar 18, 2016
Record label: Universal Music
Having found a situation they quite like, U.K. pop outsiders James reunite with producer Max Dingel and London's Rak Studios for Girl at the End of the World, their 14th album together. Building on the musical bed they established with 2014's La Petite Mort, the veteran Mancunian outfit up the ante with a big, vibrant affair that is heavy on electronics and pulsating dance rhythms.
Thirty years after their début, James’ 12th full-length studio album Girl At The End Of The World shows the band still has a lot to offer. They’ve had plenty of ups and downs in their career, but they’ve never stagnated on a journey that has seen them reinvent themselves several times over: from jangly indie guitar rock and baggy/Madchester psychedelia to a more ambient, even experimental sound with Brian Eno. James’s previous offering La Petite Mort (2014) was a moving exercise in catharsis based on front man Tim Booth’s personal lyrics about mortality.
Hats off to James for really stretching out and experimenting on their latest offering. They've been known for such daring before, on Wah-Wah, B-sides, and in their live performances. Even on past albums there's usually that adventurous feel, but song-wise they've made a career on one particular chord progression, one that often works spectacularly for them but here has lesser effect on first single "Nothing But Love." Which makes the boldness of the rest of the record that much more refreshing.
Far be it from me to accuse anyone of being lazy, but lumping James in with the Madchester movement is a bit, well, cheap, isn’t it? True enough they emerged from the ash end of the Eighties and enjoyed their greatest success at the start of the next decade. And yes, they came from Whalley Range (although Tim Booth is a Yorkshireman). But James were always a bit of an outlier, weren’t they? For one thing, none of you actually owns a James album that isn’t Gold Mother, do you? They were always the quintessential singles band, known by and large for the likes of ‘Sit Down’, ‘Laid’ and ‘She’s a Star’, and the one thing those songs have in common is that they are really, really good pop songs.
If, as band bassist and namesake Jim Glennie has it, the essence of James is found in their live performances then no doubt their loyal horde will gather to greet the Girl At The End Of The World. Whether she is the same person introduced on the opening Bitch is anyone’s guess since Tim Booth’s usual lyrical mixture of open-heart surgery and stream of consciousness remains, as does the band’s musical audacity, which is often equal parts ambitious and overreaching. On Attention they seem to start out in some space-country future before taking off to God knows where: The Associates meet U2? Produced to within an inch of its life by Max Dingel (his work with The Killers and Muse doesn’t go unnoticed) and with apparent input from Brian Eno, the album is never short on dizzying rhythmic crescendos.
James enter their fourth decade with at least a sliver of their original, dissident character intact. Girl at the End of the World is, on one level, more of the same: bulging arrangements; hefty half-hooks; Tim Booth's screwy commentary connecting somewhere to the left of immediately comprehensible. But it's also intelligent, accomplished and likeable.