thu 24/06/2021

Album: James - All the Colours of You | reviews, news & interviews

Album: James - All the Colours of You

Album: James - All the Colours of You

Covid and other contemporary ills haunt the Manchester perennials

'Sleek burnishing and mild deconstruction, nodding to dance music and current pop'

James, and Tim Booth in particular, have always been too genuinely, gauchely odd to be hip – outsiders at the Madchester rave yet responsible for one of its biggest anthems, “Sit Down”, then shedding their skin for suppler, sexual territory with Laid, an Eno collaboration which opened their sound and self-i

mage into something both gauzier and raw, but trailed behind his stadium-ambient U2 smashes. Being a mighty festival band has sustained them, alongside a drive for new material reliably bearing comparison with their past.

Sixteenth album All the Colours of You is produced by Jacknife Lee (who gave modern sheen and compressed attack to R.E.M.’s final act, amongst a reliably chart-topping CV). It’s one of the first substantial responses to the last 15 months of limbo and loss, as Booth declares in an opening howl: “We’re all going to die!” General mortality becomes all too particular on “Recover”, drawing on Booth’s father-in-law’s death from Covid, and sonically set in a spectral dancehall, where skeletal beats pulse and skip as dreadful symptoms build. “Will he get better? A cold. Will he get better? Just a chill. A sore throat.”

Like James’ last album, Living in Extraordinary Times (2018), current events are addressed head-on, often from the intimate US perspective of Booth’s since abandoned Californian home, threatened by climate-worsened fires’ charred air on “Beautiful Beaches”. The title track diagnoses a schismed country, where “President’s your man, he’s the Ku Klux Klan” and others ask “who’s more woke than who?”, while “Miss America” is tarnished long before her unnamed, perma-tanned “boss” paws her, in an anthem for a failed state.

Enigmatic episodes linger more: “Hush”, with its lupine howls, posthumous message from “a body in the lake” and Booth’s suitably ectoplasmic vocal, and “Wherever It Takes Us”, whose imagery of a frantic woman’s hands streaking blood on locked car doors, like reportage from a war zone or murder scene, is elevated to the cosmic as skin is discarded, till she’s stardust. This allegorical vignette is the kind of idiosyncratic corner James turn best.

Jacknife Lee’s sleek burnishing and mild deconstruction, nodding to dance music and current pop, helps James still sound big if not exactly contemporary. If some subtlety is sacrificed in still reaching for pop’s brass ring, and the curiosity and craft isn’t always inspired, this is another honourable chapter in an enduring career.

It’s one of the first substantial responses to the last 15 months of limbo and loss

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters