Follow Us on Twitter

James - The Morning After

James, The Morning After

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4.5 out of 5

JAMES may be synonymous with good-time party anthems from the turn of the ‘90s such as Sit Down, Sound and Laid – but long-term fans will know that Tim Booth and co have long been capable of writing moody, intelligent and sometimes sombre songs as well.

The Morning After is, however, their most sobering effort to date. A poignant, sometimes heart-breaking and often life questioning collection of eight songs that really should drag you down, but which somehow offer hope and a life affirming beauty as well.

The instrumental arrangements, while low-key compared to some of the band’s bolder flourishes, are as intricately and cleverly composed as ever, while Booth’s distinct vocals provide a firm bedding that only adds to the power of the emotive lyrics.

Admittedly, it’s an album that takes a little getting used to. But after two or three listens, it firmly holds the listener in its grasp. And there are several moments to genuinely savour.

The bluesy opener Got The Shakes is a terrifically moody entry point… slide-sounding guitar riffs colliding lazily with brooding drums to offer a dusky early treat and an insight into Booth’s more deliberate vocal approach. He utters each line like he means it… and is almost Bono-esque in delivering insights such as “some people shouldn’t mess with the thunder”.

The tender, piano-led Dust Motes follows with stark piano notes lending extra significance to the snowy landscapes inherent in the lyrics, or the striking imagery that comes with lines like “there’s a vulture at the end of my bed, it’s 5am it thinks I’m dead”.

The closest the album comes to an anthemic crowd-pleaser then arrives with the electronically charged Tell Her I Said So, which optimistically opens with the line, “here’s to a long life”, before stripping back the hope with some sobering observations on life’s journey and its highs and lows. Nevertheless, its melodies are upbeat, a belated kids’ choir adds extra kick, while the electronic element shows a nice new direction for a band previously written off as merely indie proponents.

Another of the album’s firm highlights then follows in the shape of the slow-burning Kaleidoscope, another thought-provoking offering that delivers one of the album’s biggest emotional kicks – a final line that declares: “Tests came back and the doctor said there’s no answer to the cancer, we don’t have much time.”
If that moment doesn’t reduce you to tears by the second or third time of hearing it, then you may already have run out of it yourself!

Elsewhere, there’s a notable guitar riff running through the tale of insecurity and frustration that is Rabbit Hole, a thought-provoking take on London life (complete with violins) on Make For This City and some much needed jangle to the instrumentation on Lookaway, a track that also manages to soar over a strings-laden chorus in spite of more lyrical despondency.

Final offering Fear ends things on an almost ethereal, yet hauntingly beautiful note that feels utterly in keeping with the tone of what’s come before. It’s a fitting finale to an album that haunts, inspires and makes you think.

And while its themes may bring you down a notch, there’s no denying the quality or artistry of a group that continues to confound expectation and maintain their own high standards along the way.

The Morning After is, quite simply, unmissable.

Download picks: Got The Shakes, Tell Her I Said So, Kaleidoscope, Fear, Lookaway

Track listing:

  1. Got The Shakes
  2. Dust Motes
  3. Tell Her I Said So
  4. Kaleidoscope
  5. Rabbit Hole
  6. Make For This City
  7. Lookaway
  8. Fear