James
Photo: Lewis Knaggs / Courtesy of Missing Piece Group

James’ ‘All the Colours of You’ Is Complex Pop

James’ All the Colours of You shows the band continuing with a more layered and experimental sound. Where you would file this in a record store?

All the Colours of You
James
Virgin Records
4 June 2021

James have evolved since the release of Stutter in 1986. In the 1990s, the band made popular Britpop songs like “Sit Down” and “Laid”. The melodies of those songs are catchy, and the lyrics are easy to sing. At some point, the band settled into a less predictable and more layered sound. Two things have remained consistent throughout the band’s history: Tim Booth’s distinctive voice and songs with lyrical depth, which you’ll find in great supply in these songs.

All the Colours of You is James’ latest album, and it shows the band continuing with a more layered and experimental sound, to the point that it’s hard to know where you would file this album in a record store. If a group only has a matter of seconds to catch the listener’s attention, then you can say James accomplished that particular mission. The first lyrics to the opening song “Zero” are “We’re all gonna die. That’s the truth.” Ultimately, the song’s message is that we’re all going to die, which is why you shouldn’t live unfulfilled. The melody is a swirl of guitar, piano, and strings. While the lyrics are thought-provoking, this song could be condensed from its duration of nearly six minutes. Also, for a song with such a hopeful message, it doesn’t come across as particularly joyful.

“Miss America” includes some fairly biting commentary, which is not unusual for James. “Miss America says live the dream so long as you’re born white. Killed the natives and jailed the slaves.” A little while later, he sings, “May God bless you and your love of guns.” The lyrics carry even more power because of how muted the melody is. “Beautiful Beaches” probably comes closest to the songs on the band’s albums from the 1990s that produced some of James’ bigger hits. The similarity isn’t just in the energy and the melody. It’s also that this song has some of the most singable lyrics on the album.

In the 1990s, the band recorded Wah Wah, a free-form album produced by Brian Eno. It was something different for James, but they’re still recording in that same spirit. “Wherever It Takes Us” is a good example of this. The melody is unpredictable. The verses’ lyrics are spoken and come across as something you might hear at a poetry reading. The chorus’ lyrics are sung like a church choir to add to the unpredictability.

All the Colours of You is a complex album. While it’s part pop and part rock, ultimately, it isn’t easy to classify. Some of the songs would fit well in the soundtrack of a film adaptation of an Irvine Welsh novel. Other songs would fit better in the soundtrack of a coming-of-age film. Still, for all its complexity, there’s no song you find yourself singing after you’ve listened to the album a couple of times.

RATING 6 / 10
PopMatters