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James - Living In Extraordinary Times (Album Review)

Wednesday, 08 August 2018 Written by Simon Ramsay

Listening to 'Living In Extraordinary Times', the thought occurs that indie-pop stalwarts James aren’t dissimilar to a shark. Such is the Manchester octet’s devotion to exploring fresh textures, with an insatiable forward momentum, that if they stop moving it’s likely they’ll immediately shuffle off to the great gig in the sky. Fortunately, if the band’s most recent output - and especially this effort - is anything to by, they won’t be playing chess with the Grim Reaper any time soon.

Fans who discovered James through radio staples such as Laid, Sit Down or Come Home will know that they’re masters at penning singalong hits that are more adventurous, cerebral, witty and meaningful than your average anthem. Each of the band’s records is liberally peppered with such mainstream-crushing moments, but they’re always presented in a way that’s dynamic and experimental without losing the monster hooks we crave.

Here, the upbeat defiance of Better Than That, electronically enhanced rocker Picture Of This Place and the title track, which unfurls a tranquil stream of melodious bliss amid ripping guitar chords, are ignited by gleaming new instrumental strokes and refrains that are so damn catchy they may have already pitched their tents at Glastonbury.  

Even better is Coming Home (Part Two), a sequel to the aforementioned standard that features long-time collaborator Brian Eno’s twinkling keys. Dealing with separation from one’s children and family while touring, it circumvents any potential slide into clichéd territory by adding a tender, personal touch. Its bombastic chorus is also so infectious you’ll even forgive it for threatening to turn into the Spice Girls’ Wannabe.

Elsewhere, their restless muso syndrome takes hold on Heads, a song that aims both lyrical barrels at American fat cats. Propelled by tribal rhythms, it segues into a medieval battle score before dovetailing into a theatrical number full of optimism. Connoisseurs of the band will love it.

Fuelled by the fact that, from Brexit and to Donald Trump, not to mention Leicester City winning the Premier League, we’re currently experiencing one of the craziest periods in human history, ‘Living In Extraordinary Times’ is an aptly titled effort. Although not a complete dismantling of Trump, his shadow – either directly or indirectly – hangs over a record that, courtesy of beautifully intimate tracks like Many Faces, provides a healthy reminder that compassion, unity and kindness can’t be defeated by any temporary socio-political insanity.

The production duo of Charlie Andrew (Alt-J and Wolf Alice) and Beni Giles, meanwhile, have made this whole shebang sound fresh, punchy and sparkling, adding gargantuan rhythmic textures full of detail and invention. Although bassist Jim Glennie attacks this record like a man possessed, it’s the monolithic drum sound on numbers such as Hank that make the album sonically irresistible. A powerhouse protest song with a marching intro that sounds suspiciously like Arcade Fire’s Wake Up, it lands heavy blows on Trump ("this crack head’s tiny fingers, accusing you of what he’ll do") and the NRA while referencing Russian collusion and the sale of democracy.

Over at James HQ the band’s laurels are caked in layers of dust. This is neither the result of a lack of cleanliness, a prolonged period of inactivity or any kind of bizarre atmospheric phenomenon. It’s quite simply due to the fact that – as evidenced by this sprawling and endlessly invigorating album - they never rest on them.

James Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sat August 18 2018 - SCARBOROUGH Scarborough Open Air Theatre
Wed December 05 2018 - GLASGOW SSE Hydro
Fri December 07 2018 - LONDON SSE Arena Wembley
Sat December 08 2018 - MANCHESTER Arena
Sun December 09 2018 - LEEDS first direct Arena

Click here to compare & buy James Tickets at Stereoboard.com.





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