James, Laid: Lost Classic + New Music!

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So most know the Manchester, England, band James because of its 1993 hit "Laid" -- you know, the one about cross-dressing, beds on fire, etc. But the album from which that song came, Laid, is an absolute classic.

Produced by Brian Eno, the album is a dreamy, evocative collection that's very similar in tone and execution as U2's The Unforgettable Fire. Besides a few gut-punching singles ("Laid," the more subdued, turquoise-hued "Say Something"), Laid utilizes space and nuance instead of bombast, and perfects the primal folk-mysticism in which the band had dabbled since the early 1980s. Tim Booth's distinctive voice -- it's nasally and cartoonish, but oddly forlorn and vulnerable -- meshes perfectly with the melancholic atmospheres, while James' usual influences (The Smiths, New Order, any number of '80s U.K. indie-rockers) perfectly coalesce. And unlike James albums of the late '80s/early '90s (Gold Mother and Seven in particular), Eno's production doesn't make the songs sound dated or of their time; he's hands-off enough so that the heart of the songs emerges unscathed.

Even before Laid, James had quite an interesting, turbulent history under its belt -- one that included stints opening for the Smiths, label woes, near-bankruptcy and burgeoning stardom in its native England. After Laid, the band never reached the same commercial heights in the U.S., although it released albums in 1999 and 2001 before going on hiatus after Booth left the band.

Thanks to a few friends, I've been on a huge James kick this weekend -- which is how I discovered that they have a new album coming out in April (likely just overseas for now, as far as I know) and had a freakin' marching band help them open their hometown show last April. (Pixelated video of "Come Home" with band here.) Plus, they released a comprehensive 2-CD best-of called Fresh As a Daisy - The Singles last year and went on a well-received reunion tour.

"Sometimes," from Top of the Pops, 1993:

Oh, look. The Smiths covering early James song "What's the World":

-- Annie Zaleski

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