James | The Morning After the Night Before
Most Likely To: be timelessly impressive.
As names go, James has had a good, long run. It’s been around since at least the New Testament, and while it may not be a sexy name these days, it’s never fallen out of rotation. Elmer, Chauncey, and Eggbert have come and gone, and it’s hard to imagine too many Codys or Chases running around a hundred years from now. But the name James is still hanging in there and likely will be for the foreseeable future.
James the band is a lot like James the name – their longevity is coupled with an uncanny knack for never going out of style. They started back in the mid-1980s as contemporaries of The Smiths, The Woodentops and Prefab Sprout, and they sounded just fine in that company. Being from Manchester, they got caught up in the whole Madchester scene circa 1990, along with The Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, and Inspiral Carpets, and they sounded just fine in that company. As the ‘90s progressed, they had their greatest chart success during the Britpop era alongside bands like Oasis, Blur, and Suede and they sounded just fine in that company. They took a short break at the turn of the century, but they reformed in ’07 and are now rubbing shoulders with the current crop of English bands like Radiohead, Muse, and Coldplay, and they sound just fine in that company.
So James has managed to sound perfectly at home in four different decades now, a feat very few bands have ever managed but one that James have pulled off effortlessly. Their secret would seem to be that no matter what scene they were ever associated with, they never made any effort whatsoever to tailor their sound to that scene or try to fit in in anyway, but instead just kept their heads down and concentrated on craft and quality. They’ve never tried to be of the moment; they have always been content to just be damned good.
Which is a status they’ve achieved once again with The Morning After the Night Before, a compilation of two recent EPs. There’s nothing here that wouldn’t have worked in 1985, 1990, or 1995, yet there’s not a single thing on it that sounds dated. It’s 15 tracks of exquisitely crafted guitar pop done with intelligence and passion, topped off with Tim Booth’s always excellent vocals. The band’s gift for grand, sweeping melodies that was so evident on classics like “Laid” and “Say Something” is still present on tracks like “Lookaway,” “It’s Hot,” and “Porcupine,” and Booth’s ease with language and imagery remains undiminished.
It really is impressive for a band of James’ longevity to still be doing work every bit as good as when they started. How many of their past contemporaries are even still around, let along functioning at the same level as their best work? James have never been the biggest or flashiest stars of any era, but they’ve been one of the best bands of several. With The Morning After the Night Before, they demonstrate that that is still true of the current era.