Music

James: The Morning After The Night Before

To all American James fans: the band did not forget about you this year after all.


James

The Morning After the Night Before

Label: Mercury
US Release Date: 2010-09-14
UK Release Date: Import
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Earlier this year I had the fortunate opportunity to review the James EP The Night Before. It was a pretty good little EP, but it did not feel like one of James' greatest achievements. A sequel EP was promised, appropriately named The Morning After, and how the two would complement one another was anyone's guess. In the back of my mind I guess I knew that a final decision shouldn't be made until all of the songs were present and accounted for. Context, we tend to forget, can be a strong variable for our enjoyment. Sometimes music sounds better when it's cranked up loud. Food can taste better when you are eating it with a friend. Watching a comedy with a room full of laughing people can make the whole experience funnier. In a similar way, The Night Before sounds better now that The Morning After has arrived. Nothing's really changed, just eight songs now filling in the rest of the puzzle.

These two EPs, which were released separately in the United Kingdom, have been packaged together stateside and compositely named The Morning After The Night Before. Even though it would have been easy to consolidate these two mini-albums to one CD, it's presented as a double album meant to be digested in halves. This is somewhat refreshing since our current era of pop-rock is afraid to give people things in large quantities. Ten to 12 tracks, 40 to 45 minutes, is the norm and it has become kind of boring for me. Even if The Morning After The Night Before is unnecessarily sold as two pieces of plastic instead of one, I still relish in James' generosity.

The music inside works within the parameters that the band set up in the past, where the songs' choruses are as explosive as they are optimistic and ornamentation is a necessary part of James' compositional architecture. What's interesting about The Morning After The Night Before is how the same formula for 15 songs gives noticeably different results depending on which side of the fence the songs fall. The Night Before, strangely enough, is definitely the brighter of the two albums. Tim Booth lets us know that "it's hot inside the chrysalis," and judging from the band's drive that uses all four beats of a bar to push their song forward, you don't doubt him. "Dr. Hellier" is possibly the most futuristic the band has ever sounded. James has always been a band captured in the moment, from their Smiths pastiches of the early '80s to the baggy beats of the '90s that, for better or worse, linked them to the music scene of their hometown, Manchester. Yet the wordless chanting of "Dr. Hellier" is truly a heat-seeker of a hook, making past songs like "Laid" sound like another band entirely. "Hero" is a mile-high reminder to love your brother. "Crazy" is equally joyful: "I'm not crazy / I'm just laughing at myself." Even the guys at NME should withhold the snarky cynicism.

If The Night Before is stadium-ready, The Morning After is the more catatonic side of the package. "Dust Motes" is austere and dry, sucking out all of the studio reverb. The lyric, "there's a vulture at the end of my bed / it's 5:00 am, it thinks I'm dead" is lonely enough, but pairing it with quiet piano chords is one hell of a way to set up the refrain "I forgive you," which sounds like a stripped-down rendition of James' 1992 single "Sound". The leadoff track "Got the Shakes" is also a devastatingly pretty stumbling block. Guitarist Larry Gott gets out his slide to play some unsettling blues licks as Tim Booth gives voice to a violent drunk who wakes up one morning not remembering that he beat his wife. Since this is James, the gloom is kept to a healthy minimum. Pop nuggets like "Make For This City" and "Lookaway," while still listenable, have just the slightest amount of shading to keep them away from the Night EP. Easy-going "Tell Her I Said So" combines a subtle, danceable backbone, a calm vocal delivery from Booth, and a breezy melody, although I really wish the kids' chorus fad spawned by "Another Brick in the Wall" would fall by the wayside already. It's a minor complaint in light of how "Rabbit Hole" is laced together with Gott's perfectly placed e-bow.

So although The Morning After The Night Before doesn't exactly throw dynamite at musical barriers, it does go a distance in casting 21st century James in a pretty diverse light. The Morning After is somber and restrained without being dreadfully melancholy. The Night Before is big pop with a bright sheen, but its drama holds up surprisingly well over repeated listens. Tim Booth doesn't sing louder or more forcefully than necessary, and longtime band mates Jim Glennie, Larry Gott, David Baynton-Power, and Andy Diagram recognize when to step away from their canvas. When 15 songs spanning one hour are served up without the slightest hint of overcooking, it is the mark of a great band. If the 2008 reunion album Hey Ma was James' way of announcing "we're back," The Morning After The Night Before is their way of reminding us "we're still better than you ever thought." Booth and his friends are probably too humble to admit that, but if I were them, I would totally flaunt it.

8

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image